What is Genital Herpes?
Genital Herpes is a common disease caused by a virus. The virus is called the Herpes simplex virus, or HSV. It causes painful blisters that break open and form sores in the genital area.
How Does Genital Herpes Occur?
You can become infected with the virus by contact with broken blisters or sores on the genitals, mouth, or rectal area of an infected person. The infection can be passed from person to person during sex. You may spread it with your hands if the virus gets on your hands.
Once you are infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. Usually the virus is inactive, which means it is staying in certain cells and not causing symptoms. However, the virus may become active and cause sores again. The sores may come back often. Outbreaks of sores may occur with physical stress, such as wearing tight clothing, having sex without enough lubrication, or having other illnesses. Emotional stress or menstruation may also cause an outbreak. Most people with Herpes have recurrent infections.
Herpes is very contagious when you have sores. It is not clear if the Herpes virus can be spread to others when there are no blisters or rash.
What are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
Symptoms may occur within 2 weeks after the virus first enters your body and may include:
- Painful sores (blisters) on the genitals (for example, a man's penis or the area around a woman's vagina), thighs, or buttocks
- Vaginal discharge
- Pain when you urinate or have intercourse
- Trouble urinating
- Itching in the genital or anal area
- General discomfort, such as tiredness and muscle aches
- Fever (usually only with the first outbreak of blisters)
- Tender, enlarged lymph nodes in the groin
The sores appear first as tiny clear blisters. Usually they occur in groups of several blisters, but sometimes there may be just a single blister. The blisters usually quickly lose their thin tops. Then they look like small (1/8 inch to 1/4 inch wide), pink or red shallow sores. The blisters may be painful and oozing. They may become covered with a yellowish dried crust.
The symptoms of Herpes are usually most severe during the first outbreak. Some people infected with Herpes have no symptoms.
How is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?
When testing for Herpes, your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Cells or liquid from one of the sores will be tested in the lab for the virus.