Genital herpes is another highly contagious and common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States: around one in every six people between the ages of 14 and 49 has genital herpes. Two viruses, known as herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2), cause the infection. HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, which is an infection in the lips and the mouth, which manifests itself as cold sores. This type can also cause genital herpes. However, HSV-2 is the usual cause of genital herpes.
HSV-2 is most often passed by unprotected vaginal and anal sex. It can also pass from one partner’s genitals to another partner’s mouth, resulting in oral herpes. The fluids found in herpes sores carry the virus and contact with those fluids in any way causes infection. You can also get herpes from an infected partner who does not have a visible sore, as sores can often times be hidden or simply just not very noticeable.
Many people who have genital herpes have very mild or no symptoms at all. Because of this, most people who are infected do not know it. The most common symptom is one or more painful, fluid-filled sores, which break open and often release fluid before healing. These typically appear between 2 and 20 days after you have contact with an infected partner and can last from 7 to 10 days. They often times come back during episodes called outbreaks. Other symptoms include flu-like symptoms, problems urinating, and itching or burning of the genitals. While herpes cannot be cured, there are medicines that can shorten and even prevent outbreaks. If you or your partner(s) have had any of these symptoms, it is important to get tested by your doctor for STDs.
If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, it is important to inform your doctor. Sometimes herpes infections can lead to miscarriage, early delivery, and the infection can also be passed from mother to child during birth and cause neonatal herpes, a potentially deadly infection.
The only way to avoid getting STDs it to not engage in vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you are sexually active, being in a mutually monogamous relationship and using latex condoms correctly every time you have sex can lower your chances of getting herpes.