Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. It causes small, painful, fluid-filled blisters. These blisters break open and leave an indented sore or ulcer. The blisters can be found on the genitals, buttocks, or thighs. However, they can also spread to other parts of the body (such as, the mouth, face, or eyes).
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About 16% of people aged 14-49 years have herpes simplex type 2 genital infection.
Genital herpes is usually caused by the herpes simplex 2 virus. The herpes simplex 1 virus causes cold sores most often, but it can also cause genital herpes.
The virus enters the body through genital areas, the mouth, or a break in the skin. After the first outbreak, the virus moves to nerve endings at the base of the spine. It will remain there until the next outbreak.
The virus can be spread with:
- Direct contact with an infected person—such as having contact with the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth (can include sexual or non-sexual contact)
- Fluid from herpes blisters that gets on other parts of the body
- Pregnancy or childbirth—an infection can pass from mother to her child
The virus is most easily spread when there are blisters. However, the virus may still spread to others when there are no visible skin sores.
Last reviewedSeptember 2012by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.