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Genital Herpes FAQs

Reviewed by on February 11, 2016

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Q:Is genital herpes contagious? Yes or no?

A:Yes.

Genital herpes is a highly contagious and common sexually transmitted disease (STD). An estimated 417 million people worldwide are infected, and in the U.S., approximately one in six people aged 14 to 49 years has genital herpes.

Herpes is a virus most commonly transmitted from person to person through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area. Herpes sores are filled with fluids that carry the virus, and having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has genital herpes can expose you to it. Herpes can also be contracted from an infected sexual partner who does not have visible sores, because the virus can also be released through the skin.

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Q:Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. True or false?

A:True.

The virus that is the main cause of genital herpes is the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), which is mostly only transmitted sexually. The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) which is mainly transmitted orally through cold sores or fever blisters on or around the mouth can spread to the genital area through oral-genital contact, resulting in genital herpes.

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Q:Genital herpes can occur in areas that are not covered by a latex condom. True or false?

A:True.

Genital herpes can occur in areas that are not covered by a latex condom. While condoms can reduce the spread of STDs, the only way to prevent getting genital herpes and other STDs is to avoid vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of getting genital herpes by always using latex condoms when you have sex, and remaining in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested negative for herpes and other STDs.

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Q:What are symptoms of genital herpes?

A:A person can have genital herpes and not even realize it, because most people have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Even without symptoms, the herpes virus can still be transmitted and you can get genital herpes from a partner who does not appear to be infected.

A person can have genital herpes and not even realize it, because most people have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Even without symptoms, the herpes virus can still be transmitted and you can get genital herpes from a partner who does not appear to be infected. When genital herpes symptoms do appear, the most common are one or more genital, rectal, or mouth blisters or open sores (ulcers). Ulcers may be painful and itchy, and they may ooze fluid. When the genital herpes infection is new, other symptoms may include flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes. When genital herpes symptoms do appear, the most common are one or more genital, rectal, or mouth blisters or open sores (ulcers). Ulcers may be painful and itchy, and they may ooze fluid. When the genital herpes infection is new, other symptoms may include flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes.

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Q:There is no cure for genital herpes. True or false?

A:There is currently no cure for genital herpes, but there are medications that can prevent outbreaks or shorten their duration.

The most commonly prescribed type of medication is antiviral medicines, including acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. These medications are most effective when taken as soon as an outbreak starts, and can help reduce the severity and length of outbreaks, as well as reducing the chance of passing the virus on to a partner.

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Q:Genital herpes outbreaks tend to decrease over time. True or false?

A:True.

For those who have genital herpes outbreaks, the good news is they tend to decrease over time. In the beginning people who have symptoms average about four or five outbreaks each year for a few years, and then the frequency tends to decrease. The frequency varies with each individual with some people having several outbreaks each year, and others having few to none. Repeat outbreaks tend to heal more quickly and are often less painful over time.

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Q:The herpes virus settles permanently in the body closest to the spine. True or false?

A:True.

Once infected, the herpes virus settles permanently in the body in the nerve cells near your spine. Each time an outbreak is triggered, the virus travels along the nerves back to the initial site of infection, causing sores to appear. This is why the outbreaks tend to recur in the same general area.

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Q:What is viral shedding?

A:Many people who have genital herpes may produce viral particles even when they have no symptoms, in a process called "asymptomatic viral shedding."

This is why the herpes virus can be contagious even when a person is not in the midst of an outbreak and does not have any open sores.

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Q:Genital herpes is a skin infection. True or false?

A:False.

Genital herpes includes symptoms of sores on the skin, but the virus is actually an infection of the nerve cells. As discussed earlier, the virus enters the body and settles in the nerve cells near your spine. When the virus is reactivated, it travels back through the nerves and out through the skin, resulting in blisters and sores. When there are not enough viral particles traveling through the nerves to form a blister, they are passed through the skin and a person may have no symptoms of an outbreak. This is how genital herpes is passed even when sores are not present.

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