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Conditions InDepth: Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a common, contagious sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is found in both women and men. Many people do not know they have it. Symptoms can be mild or you may think you have something else.

This is a lifelong infection with symptoms that come and go throughout life. It is not curable. It can be managed.


This health problem is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It is most often caused by HSV-2 but can also be caused by HSV-1. HSV-1 is the version that causes cold sores around the mouth.

It can be spread through contact with sores and bodily fluids from the mouth or genitals. The virus can enter your body through a cut or opening in the skin. It can also enter through the moist inner lining of the urinary tract, vagina, mouth, anus, or rectum. HSV-2 is contagious and can spread even when open sores are not there. HSV-1 can be passed through oral sex if a partner has cold sores on the mouth.

You can be exposed to more than one STI at a time such as HIV and syphilis. Your doctor may test for other STIs if genital herpes is suspected or diagnosed.


2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated January 25, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Genital herpes. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114875/Genital-herpes. Updated February 19, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Genital herpes. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/herpesviruses/genital-herpes. Updated February 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Genital herpes—CDC fact sheet (detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm. Updated February 9, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Groves MJ. Genital herpes: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2016;93(11):928-934.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG  Last Updated: 08/10/2018