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Genital Herpes Health Center

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Genital Herpes - Topic Overview

Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The infection can be bothersome.

Most people never have symptoms, or the symptoms are so mild that people don't know that they are infected. But in some people, the infection causes occasional outbreaks of itchy and painful sores in the genital area.

After the first outbreak, the herpes virus stays in the nerve cells below the skin and becomes inactive. It usually becomes active again from time to time, traveling back up to the skin and causing more sores. Things like stress, illness, a new sex partner, or menstruation may trigger a new outbreak. As time goes on, the outbreaks happen less often, heal faster, and don't hurt as much.

Genital herpes is caused by a virus—either the herpes simplex virus type 1 or the herpes simplex virus type 2. Either virus can cause sores on the lips (cold sores) and sores on the genitals. Type 1 more often causes cold sores, while type 2 more often causes genital sores.

Symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Most people never have any symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms are so mild that people may not notice them or recognize them as a sign of herpes. For people who do notice their first infection, it generally appears about 2 to 14 days after they were exposed to genital herpes.

Some people have outbreaks of itchy and painful blisters camera.gif on the penis or around the opening of the vagina. The blisters break open and turn into oozing, shallow sores that take up to 3 weeks to heal. Sometimes people, especially women, also have flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and muscle aches. They may also notice an abnormal discharge and pain when they urinate.

Genital herpes infections can be severe in people who have impaired immune systems, such as people with HIV.

Your doctor may diagnose genital herpes by examining you. He or she may ask you questions about your symptoms and your risk factors, which are things that make you more likely to get an infection.

If this is your first outbreak, your doctor may take a sample of tissue from the sore for testing. Testing can help the doctor be sure that you have herpes. You may also have a blood test.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 20, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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