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Genital Herpes 101

A couple days ago I posted Handle This: He Has Herpes and some of your comments let me know that we could all use a refresher course on this STI.

Genital herpes is highly contagious, and is passed on through sexual contact. It's caused by a strain of herpes simplex virus (HSV), which enters your body through small cuts in your skin or mucous membranes, and then causes outbreaks of painful sores on your privates.

You should know that a person can pass herpes on to someone else even if they have no visible sores. Although there is no cure for genital herpes, the outbreaks can be controlled with medication, so a person with herpes can still be in a relationship and have sex (with protection, of course), without passing it on to his or her partner.

Want to learn more about how this STI is tested and treated? Then


  • Small, painful blisters or open sores. After they ooze, they'll scab and then heal within one to three weeks.
  • For women, sores may appear in the vagina, on the outside genital area, cervix, anus, or rear end. For men, sores may appear on the penis, scrotum, rear end, anus, thighs, or inside the urethra.
  • Along with an outbreak of sores, a person may have flu-like symptoms including headache, muscle aches, and fever.
  • Many people have no symptoms at all, or they'll have one bad outbreak of sores and then never experience another. Others can experience outbreaks up to 40 years after they first contract herpes.
How do you test for it?
  • A blood test can detect a herpes infection.
  • If you have present sores, your doctor can take a fluid or tissue sample and test that, too.
  • Herpes will not cause death, but it can increase your risk of contracting other STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV.
  • A pregnant woman with sores can pass genital herpes on to her baby during delivery, which could cause brain damage, blindness, or death to the newborn. In this case, a C-section is usually performed.
  • There is no cure, but oral, antiviral medications taken including Zovirax, Famvir, and Valtrex can help heal sores faster and prevent recurrent outbreaks. If taken every day, these meds may also help reduce your risk of passing it on to anyone else.
  • If you have herpes, wait until all sores are healed before resuming sexual activity.
  • Always use a condom to prevent passing it on to your partner, since this virus can be spread even when no symptoms of herpes are present.


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