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Genital Herpes


What Happens When Someone Is Infected with Genital Herpes?

Most people infected with HSV-2 are not aware of their infection. However, if symptoms occur during the primary episode, they can be quite pronounced. The primary episode usually occurs within two weeks after the virus is transmitted, and lesions typically heal within two to four weeks. Other symptoms during the primary episode may include a second crop of lesions, or flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen glands. However, some individuals with HSV-2 infection may never have lesions, or may have very mild symptoms that they don't even notice or that they mistake for insect bites or a rash.

Most people diagnosed with a primary episode of genital herpes can expect to have several symptomatic recurrences a year (average four or five); these recurrences usually are most noticeable within the first year following the first episode.

How Is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?

The signs and symptoms associated with HSV-2 can vary greatly among individuals. Health care providers can diagnose genital herpes by visual inspection, by taking a sample from the sore(s) and by testing it to see if the herpes virus is present.

Is There a Cure for Herpes?

There is no treatment that can cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks for whatever period of time the person takes the medication.

How Can People Protect Themselves Against Infection?

The consistent and correct use of latex condoms is the best protection. However, condoms do not provide complete protection, because a herpes lesion may not be covered by the condom and viral shedding may occur. If you or your partner has genital herpes, it is best to abstain from sex when symptoms are present, and to use latex condoms between outbreaks.

Where Can I Get More Information?

National STD Hotline

National Herpes Hotline


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Aral SO, Wasserheit JN. 1995. Interactions among HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases, socioeconomic status, and poverty in women. In: O'Leary A, Jemmott LS, editors. Women at Risk: Issues in the Primary Prevention of AIDS. New York: Plenum Press.

Fleming DT, McQuillan GM, Johnson RE, Nahmias AJ, Aral SO, Lee FK, St. Louis ME. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 in the United States, 1976 to 1994. NEJM 1997; 16:1105-1111.

Laumann EO, Gagnon JH, Michael RT, Michaels S. 1994a. The number of partners. In: The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 174-224.

Laumann EO, Gagnon JH, Michael RT, Michaels S. 1994b. Sexual networks. In: The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 225-268.

Moran JS, Aral SO, Jenkins WC, Peterman TA, Alexander ER. 1989. The impact of sexually transmitted diseases on minority populations in the United States. Public Health Rep 104:560-565.

Seidman SN, Aral SO. 1992. Race differentials in STD transmission. Am J Public Health (letter) 82:1297.


WebMD Public Information from the CDC

Edited by Ngozi A. Osondu, MD on February 01, 2007
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