Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by two types of herpes simplex viruses. In the US, about one out of six, people 14 to 49 years of age have genital herpes. Most individuals have no or only minimal signs or symptoms from herpes infection.
When signs do occur, they typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. The blisters break, leaving tender sores that may take two to four weeks to heal the first time they occur. Typically, another outbreak can appear weeks or months after the first, but it almost always is less severe and shorter than the first outbreak. Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.
Genital herpes can cause recurrent painful genital sores in many adults. The sores can also be a source of psychological distress in some people. Herpes may also play a role in the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Herpes can make people more susceptible to HIV infection, and it can make HIV-infected individuals more infectious.
There is no treatment that can cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy for symptomatic herpes can reduce transmission to partners.
If you have herpes, you should abstain from sexual activity with uninfected partners when sores or other symptoms of herpes are present. Aside from abstaining from sex, the routine use of latex condoms is the best way to reduce your risk of getting herpes.