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(A-Z listing includes diseases, conditions, tests and procedures)
 

Genital Herpes

Genital Herpes: What You Need to Know

  • Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause blisters and open sores in the genital area but can also be asymptomatic.

  • Genital herpes is most likely to be spread when an infected person is having an outbreak, but it can also be spread without any symptoms being present. 

  • Your physician can prescribe different medications to help reduce your symptoms, speed up the healing of an outbreak and also to reduce asymptomatic shedding. These medicines work best when you start them soon after an outbreak occurs.

  • If you know you have genital herpes before becoming pregnant, your physician will monitor your condition throughout your pregnancy. If you have an active outbreak at the time of delivery, cesarean section (C-section) may be recommended.

Genital Herpes Overview

In the United States, about one in every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. This sexually transmitted disease can cause blisters and open sores in the genital area.

While there is no cure for herpes, the severity of the virus varies over the course of an infected person’s lifetime. In fact, some people with the disease do not experience any symptoms for extended periods. They may still shed the virus, though, when no symptoms are present.

Causes of Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). You can contract genital herpes by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the disease.

Prevention of Genital Herpes

Herpes is most likely to be spread when an infected person has blisters and open sores on their body. However, you can also spread herpes to your sex partner when you do not have any symptoms.

You can reduce the risk of spreading genital herpes to your sex partner by taking an antiviral medicine every day. You can also:

  • Inform your sexual partner that you have genital herpes

  • Use a condom every time you have sex

  • Refrain from having sex when you have symptoms

  • Abstain from performing oral sex if you have blisters or open sores around your mouth

Genital Herpes Symptoms

While some people with genital herpes will never have any symptoms, other people can develop symptoms within a few weeks of being infected. Genital herpes traditionally appears as blisters in the genital region. In women, this includes the vagina, butt, anus and thighs. For men, this includes the penis, scrotum, anus, butt and thighs. You can also have the following symptoms:

  • Blisters on the mouth or lips

  • Fever, headache or pain in the joints

  • Trouble urinating

The symptoms of genital herpes often go away and come back. This recurrence is known as an outbreak. For most people, the first outbreak is the worst and can last from two to three weeks. Future outbreaks are often less severe and do not last as long. The following triggers can make outbreaks more likely to occur:

Diagnosing Genital Herpes

If you have blisters in your genital region, your physician can order a test to determine if you have genital herpes. Your physician may take a sample of cells from the fluid inside the blister or order a blood test.

Genital Herpes Treatment Options

Your physician can prescribe different medications to help reduce your symptoms and speed up the healing of an outbreak. These medicines work best when you start them soon after an outbreak occurs. To reduce pain during an outbreak:

  • Sit in warm water in a portable bath or bathtub for about 20 minutes. Avoid bubble baths.

  • Keep your genital area clean and dry, and avoid tight clothes.

  • Take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Avoid aspirin.

Let your physician know if you are worried about your genital herpes. He or she can recommend a support group to help you cope with the virus.

Genital Herpes and Pregnancy

It is important to avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy. A first episode during pregnancy can create a greater risk of transmission to a newborn.

If you know that you have genital herpes before becoming pregnant, your physician will monitor your condition throughout your pregnancy. If you have an active outbreak at the time of delivery, a C-section may be recommended. Depending on individual diagnosis, though, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorses suppressive therapy to reduce the frequency of C-section. Fortunately, the infection of an infant is rare among women with genital herpes.

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