Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection that affects men and women. Features of genital herpes include pain, itching and sores in your genital area. But you may have no signs or symptoms of genital herpes. If infected, you can be contagious even if you have no visible sores.

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes genital herpes. Sexual contact is the primary way that the virus spreads. After the initial infection, the virus lies dormant in your body and can reactivate several times a year.

There's no cure for genital herpes, but medications can ease symptoms and reduce the risk of infecting others. Condoms also can help prevent transmission of the virus.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Most people who've been infected with HSV don't know they have the infection because they have no signs or symptoms or because their signs and symptoms are so mild.

When present, the symptoms of genital herpes include:

  • Pain or itching that begins within two to 10 days after exposure to an infected sexual partner
  • Small red bumps or tiny white blisters, which may appear several days later
  • Ulcers that form when the blisters rupture and ooze or bleed
  • Scabs that form as the ulcers heal

Ulcers may make it painful to urinate. You also may experience pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears.

During an initial outbreak, you may have flu-like signs and symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes in your groin, headache, muscle aches and fever.

Differences in symptom location

Sores appear where the infection entered your body. You can spread the infection by touching a sore and then rubbing or scratching another area of your body, including your eyes.

Men and women can develop sores on the:

  • Buttocks
  • Anus
  • Mouth

Women can also develop sores in or on the:

  • Vaginal area
  • External genitals
  • Cervix

Men can also develop sores in or on the:

  • Penis
  • Scrotum
  • Thighs
  • Urethra, the channel inside the penis leading to the bladder

Recurrences are common

Genital herpes is different for each person. The signs and symptoms may recur, off and on, for years. Some people experience numerous episodes each year. For many people, however, the outbreaks are less frequent as time passes.

During a recurrence, shortly before sores appear, you may feel:

  • Burning, tingling and itching where the infection first entered your body
  • Pain in your lower back, buttocks and legs

However, recurrences are generally less painful than the original outbreak, and sores generally heal more quickly.

When to see a doctor

If you suspect you have genital herpes — or any other sexually transmitted infection — see your doctor.

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