Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects an estimated
Two viruses can cause genital herpes:
- herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)
- herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2)
Symptoms of genital herpes often start out very mild. It’s easy to mistake them for signs of a small pimple or ingrown hair.
Herpes sores appear as small, red bumps or white blisters. They can pop up in any area of your genitals.
If one of these blisters ruptures, you might notice a painful ulcer forming in its place. It may ooze fluid or cause you pain when urinating.
As the ulcer heals, it’ll form a scab. Resist the urge to pick at the scab, which will only irritate the area more. When an ulcer heals, a scab will form. It’s important not to pick at or irritate a herpes sore.
Other potential symptoms include:
- itching in your genitals
- pain in your genitals
- flu-like symptoms, including body aches and fever
- swollen lymph nodes in your groin area
Both viruses can be spread through having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus.
Genital herpes has no cure, but there are treatments that can help control symptoms.
Genital herpes doesn’t always cause symptoms. You may not even know you have herpes until you pass it to someone else or get tested.
If you’ve had herpes in the past and are following a treatment plan, you’ll have periods of time without any symptoms. These are known as latent periods.
But this doesn’t mean you no longer have the virus. And you can still pass the virus to others during a latent period, thought, though the risk is lower.
Symptoms tend to come on suddenly anywhere from two days to two weeks after you’ve been exposed to the virus.
The appearance of symptoms is called an outbreak. After your initial outbreak is treated, you may have subsequent outbreaks during the next year and occasionally throughout the rest of your life.
Herpes doesn’t always cause symptoms, so your best bet is to make an appointment with a healthcare provider. They might be able to diagnose you just by looking at your symptoms.
They may also take a fluid sample from a blister and test it or have you do a blood test.
You’ll likely be asked some questions about your sexual history. It’s very important that you’re honest in your answers. This will help to determine whether you should be tested for any other STIs while you’re there.
Remember, there’s no cure for herpes. But antiviral medication can help to prevent the virus from reproducing and reduce the number of outbreaks you have. This can also reduce your risk of passing the virus to others.
Common antiviral medications used for herpes include:
- acyclovir (Zovirax)
- famciclovir (Famvir)
- valacyclovir (Valtrex)
For some people, taking the medications at the first sign of an outbreak is enough. But if you have frequent outbreaks, you may need daily medication.
For pain and itch relief, try to keep your genitals as clean and dry as possible during an outbreak. You can also apply a covered ice pack a few times a day.
Genital herpes is a relatively common STI. It doesn’t always cause symptoms, so if there’s a chance you might have it, it’s best to get tested as soon as possible to avoid accidentally passing the virus to others.
While there’s no cure for herpes, antiviral medication can help to reduce the number of outbreaks you have. Just keep in mind that it is still possible to pass it to others when you aren’t having an outbreak, so be sure to use some type of barrier protection during sexual activity.