Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on October 24, 2011

I know there are different kinds of STDs. What are genital herpes?

I don’t know much about genital herpes. What causes it and how do you know if you have it or not?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on October 24, 2011

Thanks for sharing your question, and for your interest in learning more about genital herpes. I’m happy to provide you a little background information... 

What is genital herpes? It’s a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that occurs when the herpes simplex virus (HSV) infects the genitals. We’ll focus on two types of herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2. While, HSV-2 is responsible for most genital herpes infections, HSV-1 (the herpes strain that causes most oral herpes infections) is responsible for a growing number of genital herpes cases in young women, and men who have sex with men. Why? Because HSV-1 can be spread from the mouth area to the genitals through unprotected oral sex. 

That said, many people in the United States have genital herpes caused by HSV-2. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC), among people between the ages of 14 and 49, about one of every six has a genital HSV-2 infection.

How is genital herpes transmitted? Most often through skin-to-skin contact. In fact, genital herpes is almost always spread through sexual activity, including vaginal and anal intercourse, oral sex and even genital-to-genital touching without penetration.

What does genital herpes look like? Actually, most people who have genital herpes don’t have any symptoms. But people who do have signs or symptoms of herpes will typically notice tiny blisters that quickly break and become small, open sores in the genital area. 

So how do you know if you have herpes? The only way to know for sure is to get tested...you can learn more about herpes testing in our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 +2. 

If it turns out that you test positive for herpes, don’t despair. Herpes medications can help reduce the frequency and intensity of herpes outbreaks. Treatment can also help reduce the risk of transmitting your herpes infection to a partner.

Hopefully this information helps you understand more about genital herpes. I wish you the best of health. 

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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