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Genital Herpes Simplex

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 27, 2022.

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It is spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It may be spread even if you do not see blisters. It can also be spread to other areas of your body, including your eyes, by touching open blisters. If you are pregnant, it may be spread to your baby while he is still in your womb or during vaginal delivery. Unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners increases your risk for genital herpes.

What are the signs and symptoms of genital herpes?

The most common symptoms are blisters that appear on your genital area, thighs, or buttocks. The blisters will open, leak fluid, and then dry up (crust over). Usually these sores will go away without leaving a scar. Other symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Redness, burning, itching, or tingling in your genital area
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache, body weakness, or muscle pains
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your groin
  • Sore throat or loss of appetite
  • Fluid or blood leaking from your vagina
  • Pain when you urinate

How is genital herpes diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and examine you. He or she will need to know when your symptoms started. Tell your provider about any STIs you or your partners may have. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may show the HSV. You may also have this test if you have no symptoms but have a partner with genital herpes.
  • A fluid sample from a blister may show the HSV.

How is genital herpes treated?

There is no cure for genital herpes. You may need any of the following:

  • Antivirals may help decrease your symptoms.
  • Numbing cream or ointment may help decrease pain.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

How can I manage my symptoms?

Do the following to be more comfortable when your infection is active:

  • Keep the blisters clean and dry. Wash them with soap and warm water, and pat dry gently.
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose clothing. This may help to keep the blisters dry and keep clothes from rubbing.
  • Apply ice on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. A warm bath may also help. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.

How can I prevent the spread of genital herpes?

  • Use condoms. Use a latex condom when you have oral, genital, and anal sex. Use a new condom each time. Use a polyurethane condom if you are allergic to latex.
  • Try not to touch your blisters. Wash your hands before and after you touch the area. Do not kiss anyone if you have blisters around your mouth. Do not breastfeed if you have blisters on your breast.
  • Tell your partners that you have genital herpes. Do not have sex until he or she knows that you have genital herpes. Ask your healthcare provider for ways to tell partners about your infection.
  • Tell your healthcare providers that you have genital herpes. If you are pregnant, your baby may need special monitoring. Inform your healthcare provider of your condition to avoid spreading the infection to your baby.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have a seizure.
  • Your neck is stiff.
  • You have trouble thinking clearly.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have chills or a fever.
  • You have painful blisters on your penis, vagina, anus, or mouth.
  • Fluid or blood is coming out of your genitals.
  • You have trouble urinating.
  • You think you are pregnant and you are bleeding from your vagina.
  • You have trouble chewing or swallowing.
  • Your symptoms do not get better, or they get worse, even after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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