Understanding Genital Herpes -- the Basics

What Is Genital Herpes?

Herpes is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. More than 45 million people in the U.S. -- one in five adults and adolescents -- carry the virus.

It's highly contagious and incurable, but with education and medical treatment, you can reduce or prevent outbreaks and transmission to your sexual partner.

Genital herpes can cause serious or fatal infections in newborns if the mother is shedding the virus at the time of vaginal delivery. The virus also makes it easier for a person to transmit and get HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

What Causes Genital Herpes?

A virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes herpes. There are two strains of the virus. HSV-2 is the most common cause of genital herpes. HSV-1, which causes the cold sores or fever blisters many people get on their lips, can also cause genital herpes.

The virus can be spread through both vaginal and anal intercourse as well as by oral sex. The virus is spread most easily by coming into contact with a herpes ulcer. However, the virus can also be spread from an infected person who does not have any signs or symptoms of infection; this is referred to as asymptomatic shedding.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on March 17, 2017

Sources

SOURCES: 

CDC: "Genital Herpes -- CDC Fact Sheet."

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Genital Herpes."

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