Genital Herpes: Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis

Genital Herpes

What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This STD causes herpetic sores, which are painful blisters (fluid-filled bumps) that can break open and ooze fluid. About 16 percent of people between the ages of 14 and 49 have this STD.

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Causes of Genital Herpes


Two types of viruses cause genital herpes: the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus (HSV-2), which belong to the same family of viruses.

The viruses get into your body through your mucous membranes. Your mucous membranes are the thin layers of tissue that line the openings of your body. They can be found in your nose, mouth, and genitals. Once the viruses are inside your body, they incorporate themselves into your cells. Viruses tend to multiply or adapt to their environments very easily, which makes treating them difficult.

HSV-1 or HSV-2 can be found in infected people’s body fluids, including:

  • saliva
  • semen
  • vaginal secretions

Recognizing the Symptoms of Genital Herpes


The appearance of blisters is known as an outbreak. Your first outbreak will appear as early as two days after you contracted the virus, or as late as 30 days afterward.

General symptoms for males include blisters on the penis, scrotum, or buttocks (near or around the anus).

General symptoms for females include blisters around or near the vagina, anus, and buttocks.

General symptoms for both males and females include the following:

  • Blisters may appear in your mouth and on your lips, face, and anywhere else that came into contact with the infected areas.
  • The infected site often starts to itch, or tingle, before the actual appearance of blisters.
  • The blisters may become ulcerated (open sores) and ooze fluid.
  • A crust may appear over the sores within a week of the outbreak.
  • Your lymph glands may become swollen. Lymph glands fight infection and inflammation in the body.
  • You may have headaches, body aches, and fever.

General symptoms for a baby born with herpes (received through a vaginal delivery) may include ulcers on the face, body, and genitals. Babies who are born with genital herpes can develop very severe complications and experience:

  • blindness
  • brain damage
  • death

It is very important that you tell your doctor that you have genital herpes if you are pregnant. They will take precautions to prevent the virus from being transmitted to your baby during delivery, with one likely method being that your baby would be delivered via cesarean rather than routine vaginal delivery.

Diagnosing Genital Herpes


Your doctor can typically diagnose a herpes infection by a visual examination of the herpes sores. Although they are not always necessary, your doctor may confirm their diagnosis through a laboratory test.

A blood test can diagnose herpes simplex virus before you experience an outbreak. Make an appointment with your doctor if you think you’ve been exposed to genital herpes, even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms yet.

How Can Genital Herpes Be Treated?


Treatment can reduce the outbreaks, but it cannot cure you of the herpes simplex viruses.


Antiviral drugs may help speed up the healing time of your sores and reduce pain. Medications may be taken at the first signs of an outbreak (tingling, itching, and other symptoms) to reduce the symptoms.

Home Care

Use mild cleansers when bathing or showering in warm water. Keep the infected site clean and dry. Wear loose, cotton clothing to keep the area comfortable.

What Should I Know if I Am Pregnant and I Have Genital Herpes?

pregnant women

It is normal to be concerned about the health of your baby when you have any type of STD. Genital herpes can be spread to your baby if you have an active outbreak during a vaginal delivery. It is important to tell your doctor you have genital herpes as soon as you know you’re pregnant.

Your doctor will discuss what to expect before, during, and after you deliver your baby. They can prescribe pregnancy-safe treatments to ensure a healthy delivery. They may also opt to deliver your baby via cesarean.

Genital herpes can also cause pregnancy complications like miscarriage or premature birth.

Long-Term Outlook for Genital Herpes


You should practice safe sex and use condoms every time you have sex with someone. This will help prevent genital herpes and other STDs from spreading.

There is no cure for genital herpes, but the condition can be managed with medication. The disease stays dormant within your body until something triggers an outbreak. Outbreaks can happen when you become stressed, sick, or tired. Your doctor will help you come up with a treatment plan that will help you manage your outbreaks. 

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