Diane Safer, PhD
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
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.
You can be exposed to more than one STD at a time such as
syphilis. Your doctor may test for other STDs if genital herpes is suspected or diagnosed.
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
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