One in five Americans has genital herpes, but many don't know it because the symptoms can be mild or even absent. Genital herpes is usually spread by sexual contact and caused by the type 2 herpes virus (HSV-2). However, the type 1 herpes virus (HSV-1), which more commonly causes cold sores, can also infect the genitals -- usually through oral sex.
There's no cure for genital herpes. Once infected, you're infected for life.
Herpes is most often spread from active sores. But you don't have to have...
The herpes virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. After the first outbreak, it becomes inactive. Then, in most people, it gets active again from time to time, causing blisters and sores.
Some people have many outbreaks each year, while others have only a few or none at all. People who have symptoms average 5 outbreaks a year during the first few years. Most have fewer outbreaks after that.
People report that certain things may trigger outbreaks, such as:
About half of the people who have repeated outbreaks can feel one coming a few hours to a couple of days before it happens. They may feel tingling, burning, itching, numbness, tenderness, or pain where the blisters are about to appear.
People who have an impaired immune system are more likely to have longer and/or more severe outbreaks of genital herpes than people whose immune systems are healthy.
In rare cases, a newborn is infected with the herpes virus during delivery. Because their immune systems aren't fully developed, newborns with herpes infection can have serious health problems affecting many body systems. It may take up to 3 weeks after a newborn is infected before he or she becomes ill.