Genital Herpes

(Herpes, Genital; Herpes Genitalis; Herpes Simplex, Genital)

Definition

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. It causes small, painful, fluid-filled blisters. These blisters break open and leave an indented sore or ulcer. The blisters can be found on the genitals, buttocks, or thighs. However, they can also spread to other parts of the body (such as, the mouth, face, or eyes).
Genital Herpes
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About 16% of people aged 14-49 years have herpes simplex type 2 genital infection.

Causes

Genital herpes is usually caused by the herpes simplex 2 virus. The herpes simplex 1 virus causes cold sores most often, but it can also cause genital herpes. The virus enters the body through genital areas, the mouth, or a break in the skin. After the first outbreak, the virus moves to nerve endings at the base of the spine. It will remain there until the next outbreak.The virus can be spread with:
  • Direct contact with an infected person—such as having contact with the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth (can include sexual or non-sexual contact)
  • Fluid from herpes blisters that gets on other parts of the body
  • Pregnancy or childbirth—an infection can pass from mother to her child
The virus is most easily spread when there are blisters. However, the virus may still spread to others when there are no visible skin sores.

Risk Factors

The strongest risk factor for genital herpes is having unprotected sex with an infected partner. Other risk factors include:
  • High number of sexual partners
  • History of sexually transmitted infections
  • Starting to have sex at an early age
Certain factors can trigger an outbreak of blisters. These factors include:
  • Stress
  • Fever
  • Illness or infection
  • Menstruation
The exact cause of an outbreak is rarely known.

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