Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and is spread through skin to skin contact with an infected person.
There are two types of herpes viruses:
- Herpes Simplex 1 (the common cold sore) appears in the mouth area and can spread to the genitals through oral sex.
- Herpes Simplex 2 is commonly found on the genital area and can be transmitted to the mouth by oral sex.
Symptoms: An outbreak can vary from one sore to clusters of small blisters on the penis, scrotum, vulva (lips of the vagina), anus or the area that is covered by a pair of boxer shorts. Even when there are no obvious sores or signs of infections, the virus can be passed on.
Testing for genital herpes is done by swabbing the visible sores or by blood tests. See your health care provider as soon as any visible signs appear or if you are concerned that you may have been exposed to an STI.
Treatment: Herpes cannot be cured but medications such as antivirals can help ease symptoms, reduce further episodes and prevent the spread of herpes to sexual partners.
Prevention: Condoms and oral dams help avoid the spread of genital herpes, but only from the area covered by the condom or oral dam.
To reduce your risk of getting STIs, including HIV, follow these practices:
- Use a condom and/or oral dam properly and consistently each time you are sexually active.
- See your healthcare provider or go to a sexual health clinic to be tested for STIs if you are sexually active or starting a sexual relationship with a new partner.
- You and your partner should be tested for STIs before becoming sexually active and then again in three to six months.
You can’t tell if someone has an STI by looking at them; the only way to know is to be tested.