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Genital Herpes

Genital Herpes, usually HSV-2, is an infection caused by a virus. It belongs to a family of herpes viruses that cause chickenpox, cold sores, shingles, and mononucleosis. Once infected, herpes remains in the body for the life span of the host. HSV-2 is the cause of genital lesions in about 80-85% of all cases. The balance are caused by a related strain of HSV-1. This strain is usually found around the mouth (cold sores) and nose. Most cases of HSV-1 in the genital area come from oral-genital contact. Fortunately, both strains respond well to current treatments.

How You Get It

Herpes is acquired by having sex or personal contact (kissing, touching, etc.) with an infected person. An infected person is contagious from the moment of prodrome (burning, pain, itching) until the sores are completely healed.

How It Is Transmitted

Infection occurs when the virus passes through a break in the skin or penetrates the moist mucosal membranes of the penis, vagina, cervix, or anus.

What It Looks Like - What The Symptoms Are

About 2-10 days after having sex with an infected partner, flu-like symptoms such as swollen glands, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and nausea may appear. Early symptoms (prodrome) include a burning sensation when urinating; pain in the buttocks, legs or genital area; a feeling of pressure in the genital area; or a discharge from the vagina. Sores appear as a small, fluid-filled blisters on the genitals, buttocks, or other infected areas. Later these blisters will dry-out, crust over, and heal. The first bout can last up to three weeks. About 90% of those infected will have recurrence at some time. The rate of recurrence varies greatly for each infected person. Recurrences in a normal host normally last about a week.

How To Get Tested For It

A qualified medical professional will collect a small sample of fluid from one of the lesions and send it to a laboratory for a viral culture. The results can take up to two weeks. It is very difficult to test for HSV if there are no lesions present and is most effective early in the outbreak.


Herpes cannot be cured but it can be treated. Antiviral capsules or ointment can shorten the length of the outbreak and make the sores less painful. If you have frequent repeat outbreaks, your healthcare provider can work out a specific daily regimen to reduce or eliminate them completely. Keep all lesions clean and dry, and avoid tight fitting clothes.

If Left Untreated

Once infected, the symptoms may go away, but they can come back. If left untreated, recurrences will last longer and have more discomfort. As with any virus, even when less active it is possible to transmit the virus to a partner.


Abstain from sex during infectious periods (outbreaks). Wear protection in the form of latex condoms. If there are any lesions or scabs present, avoid any contact.


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