The Facts About Herpes

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There are many misunderstandings about genital herpes. The truth is that millions of people live happy and fulfilled lives with genital herpes.

Many people do not have a clear understanding of what genital herpes is, how it is transmitted, and what the symptoms are.

The biggest misconception is that genital herpes is a disease associated with promiscuous behavior.

Symptoms of genital herpes can first appear a long time after the person has contracted the disease—you may have contracted it from a sexual partner long ago.

Your partner may have genital herpes without knowing it—he or she may have passed it on to you without showing signs of the disease.

The first thing that is important to understand is what causes herpes, and the difference between the two types of herpes viruses, type 1 and type 2.

What Causes Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is almost always sexually transmitted. It is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus one of the same family of viruses that causes chicken pox, cold sores, and mononucleosis. Two different types of herpes simplex viruses can cause herpes.

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) usually causes oral herpes (cold sores or fever blisters) on the face and mouth. HSV-1

Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) usually causes genital herpes.

The symptoms of genital herpes may include:

  • A rash, bumps, blisters, cuts, or sores in or around the genital area (vagina, vulva, anus, penis, or scrotum)
  • Itching, burning, tingling, or swelling in or around the genital area.
  • Aches or pains in or around the genital area
    Discharge from the penis or vagina.
  • Burning and/or pain when urinating.
  • Flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, and swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the groin.

Although HSV-1 causes the majority of oral herpes cases (cold sores) and HSV-2 causes the majority of genital herpes cases, both of these viruses can cause oral herpes, genital herpes, or both.

Most type 1 genital herpes is caused by unprotected oral sex. In adults, the potential for type 1 genital herpes may be increasing because oral sex is more common and protection is rarely used.

Outbreaks of type 1 genital herpes generally recur less frequently than outbreaks of type 2 genital herpes. In the United States, about one third of genital herpes cases are caused by type 1 genital herpes.

More people are engaging in oral sex. You may believe that by having oral sex and not intercourse you are practicing safe sex. Unfortunately, this is not true.

The type 1 herpes virus can be spread through oral sex—what was a cold sore on your partner’s mouth could develop as genital herpes in you. It is important to use barrier protection during oral sex.