Genital herpes is one of
the most common
sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The infection can
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 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.
infections can be severe in people who have
impaired immune systems, such as people with
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.