Genital herpes is common in the United States. It is caused by two types of viruses, herpes simplex type 1 (virus usually responsible for cold sores) and herpes simplex type 2 (typically affects genital area). However, both types can cause either oral or genital infections. About one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years in the United States have genital herpes.
You can get herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the disease. Fluids found in herpes sores carry the virus, and contact with those fluids can cause infection. You can also get herpes from an infected sex partner who does not have a visible sore or who may not know he or she is infected because the virus can be released through your skin and spread the infection to your sex partner(s).
Most people who have herpes have no, or very mild symptoms. You may not notice mild symptoms or you may mistake them for another skin condition, such as a pimple or ingrown hair. Because of this, most people who have herpes do not know it. Genital herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take weeks to heal. These symptoms are sometimes called “having an outbreak.” The first time someone has an outbreak they may also have flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, or swollen glands.
Repeat outbreaks of genital herpes are common, especially during the first year after infection. Repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Although the infection can stay in the body for the rest of your life, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.
There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks. See your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or if your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD, such as an unusual sore, a smelly discharge, burning when urinating, or, for women specifically, bleeding between periods.