Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It causes small, painful, fluid-filled blisters. These blisters break open and leave a sore. They can be found on the sex organs, buttocks, or thighs. They can also spread to other parts of the body, such as the mouth, face, or eyes.
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The infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus can be spread through:
It is easy for the virus to spread when there are blisters. But it may still spread to others when blisters are not present.
The strongest risk factor is having unprotected sex with an infected person. Other things that may raise the risk are:
Most people do not have symptoms. People who do will have painful, itchy blisters around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. There may also be a burning feeling when urinating. The blisters break and leave sores that take about a week to heal. This is called an outbreak. The first outbreak may also result in flu-like symptoms, such as:
The outbreaks that follow are usually shorter and less severe. They may also decrease over time.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on any sores you may have. This may be enough to suspect genital herpes. Blood or fluid from the blisters may be tested for signs of infection.
There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and reduce the number of outbreaks. Treatment can also lower the risk of spreading the virus to others. Care may include:
A person's sex partner will also need to be tested for the virus.
To lower the risk of genital herpes:
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
International Herpes Alliance
Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
Genital herpes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/genital-herpes. Accessed October 15, 2020.
Genital herpes. Healthy Women—National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. website. Available at: https://www.healthywomen.org/condition/genital-herpes/overview. Accessed October 15, 2020.
Herpes simplex: overview. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/herpes-simplex-overview. Accessed October 15, 2020.
Workowski KA, Bolan GA; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2015 Jun 5;64(RR-03):1-137.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Elliot M. Levine, MD, FACOG
Last Updated: 4/27/2021