What is Genital Herpes?
Genital Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus. Since it is caused by a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Herpes affects the skin and mucous membranes where the infection was introduced, which is usually the genitals but can also include the mouth and lips, if you had oral sex with someone infected. The infection shows up as painful sores and warts. They may look and feel different depending on the person and the severity of the infection, but they are generally uncomfortable and can be very painful if not treated quickly!
There are two types of herpes, each caused by a slightly different virus.
The HSV-1 virus can cause genital herpes, but it most commonly causes infection in the mouth and lips. These are called “cold sores,” and you’ve probably experienced them before. Oral sex can spread these painful sores to the genitals.
The HSV-2 virus most often causes genital herpes, but it can be spread to the mouth or other mucus membranes, like the nose, eyes, throat, or anus, through contact. This infection tends to be more severe.
How common is Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes is the most common STI in the United States. About one in every five women is infected with herpes.
How do people get Genital Herpes?
People get herpes by having sex with someone who already has the disease. The virus takes over the cells in the skin and creates sores that produce more copies of the virus. Any contact with those sores releases copies of the virus to spread to the other partner. During an “outbreak” (that is, when the sores are visible on the skin and usually painful), the virus spreads the most easily. However, even when there are no active sores, the infected skin keeps producing some copies of the virus, which can spread to a partner.
What are the symptoms?
Between outbreaks, there are no outward symptoms of Genital Herpes. You can have herpes without knowing it, and you can have sex with someone who has herpes without being able to tell. It’s important to make sure that you partner is tested for STIs before you have sex – he or she might not even know that you are in danger of catching a disease.
The first outbreak of herpes typically happens within 2 – 14 days of being infected, and it can be very severe.
- Decreased appetite
- General sick feeling
- Small sores around genitals and rectum
What is the treatment for herpes?
There is no cure for herpes. Antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks, which reduces discomfort and limits the chance of spreading herpes to someone else. However, there is no way to be 100% safe from spreading herpes during sex, since it can be transmitted between outbreaks as well.