Genital Herpes



The infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus can be spread through:

  • Sexual or skin to skin contact with someone who has the virus
  • Pregnancy or giving birth—an infection can pass from a mother to her child

It is easy for the virus to spread when there are blisters. But it may still spread to others when blisters are not present.

Risk Factors

The strongest risk factor is having unprotected sex with an infected person. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Having more than one sex partner
  • Prior STIs
  • Starting to have sex at an early age



Most people do not have symptoms. Those who do will have painful, itchy blisters around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. There may also be a burning feeling when passing urine (pee). The blisters break and leave sores that take about a week to heal. This is called an outbreak. The first outbreak may also result in flu like symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen glands

The outbreaks that follow are usually shorter and less severe. They may also decrease over time.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on any sores that are present. This may be enough to suspect genital herpes. Blood or fluid from the blisters may be tested for signs of infection.



There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and reduce the number of outbreaks. Treatment can also lower the risk of spreading the virus to others. Care may include:

  • Antiviral medicines to treat the infection or prevent an outbreak
  • Supportive care, such as warm baths or numbing gel when sores are present
  • Over the counter pain relievers, such as pain lotions that are applied to the skin
  • Counseling to learn how to avoid spreading the virus to others

A person's sex partner will also need to be tested for the virus.


The risk of genital herpes may be lowered by:

  • Not having oral, anal, or genital sex
  • Using latex condoms during sex
  • Not having oral, anal, or genital sex with a person who has herpes blisters

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.