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Conditions InDepth: Genital Herpes
by Diane Safer, PhD and Michael Jubinville, MPH
Genital herpes is a very common, highly contagious sexually transmitted disease (STD) found in both women and men. It is one of the most commonly reported infectious diseases in the US. It often goes unreported because many people don't know they have it, as symptoms can be mild, or mistaken for something else.
Genital herpes is a chronic, lifelong infection with symptoms that come and go throughout life. Left untreated, genital herpes can cause serious complications. It is not curable, but it can be managed.
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It is most often caused by HSV-2 but can also be caused by HSV-1, the version of HSV most often associated with cold sores around the mouth.
The virus can be spread through contact with lesions and bodily fluids including oral or genital secretions. The virus can enter your body through a cut or opening in the skin, or through the moist inner lining of the urinary tract, vaginal area, mouth, anus, or rectum. HSV-2 is very contagious and can spread even when open lesions are not present. HSV-1 can be passed through oral sex if a partner has cold sores on the mouth.
What are the risk factors for genital herpes?
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
What are the treatments for genital herpes?
Are there screening tests for genital herpes?
How can I reduce my risk of genital herpes?
What questions should I ask my doctor?
Where can I get more information about genital herpes?
Beauman JG. Genital herpes: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(8):1527-1534.
Genital herpes. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114875/Genital-herpes. Updated August 22, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.
Workowski KA, Berman S. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
Last reviewed June 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 5/20/15
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