Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). Genital herpes affects both men and women.

Herpes is an STD that comes and goes, meaning there are periods when the virus is not actively causing symptoms. During the time between outbreaks, you can still spead herpes to your sexual partners.

In most cases, symptoms may not appear. In others, they may be mistaken for another kind of skin condition. Here are some common genital herpes symptoms you should be aware of:

  • Small, red bumps that appear on or near the genitals, anus, mouth, or thighs
  • Pain or burning during urination in both men and women
  • Pain or itching in the genital or anal area

If left untreated, the sores and blisters will fade away. This does not mean the virus is gone. People with herpes have repeated cycles of outbreaks. Over time, the outbreaks are shorter in duration and less severe than the first outbreak. The number of outbreaks also decreases over time.

Genital herpes is diagnosed with a swab of the blister. If the blister has healed, then a blood tests may be done.

Genital herpes is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact. This can happen herpes virus in it comes into contact with the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth. For example, if you have a cold sore on your mouth and have oral sex, you can give your partner genital herpes.

Herpes is most contagious during outbreaks, so you should abstain from sex when symptoms are present. Keep in mind the virus can also be transmitted when symptoms are not present. Some people contract herpes from partners whose symptoms are very mild or completely absent, so the person does not know that they are infected. Others become infected from people who do not tell them of their condition.

Pregnant women can transfer genital herpes to their baby, with serious infant health consequences. Herpes also puts the mother at risk for miscarriage and premature birth. Contact your doctor right away if you have been exposed to, have symptoms of, or have a diagnosis of genital herpes.