Munson Health
Genital Herpes

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by Alan R

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



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.


Symptoms depend on whether or not this is your first episode. The virus remains quiet between outbreaks. During this time, you may not have visible symptoms, but the virus may still be shedding. This means the virus can be spread during sex.
The number of outbreaks varies. They may decrease over time.

Primary Infection

Primary infection is when you are first exposed to the virus. You may not have any symptoms or you may feel like you have the flu . This can include fever, muscle aches, and swollen glands. Blisters may appear in the genital area or other areas.
It may take about 2-6 weeks for the primary infection to resolve.

Recurrent Infection

A recurrent infection happens when the virus is reactivated in your body. The severity of the outbreak, how long it lasts, and how much is shed all vary.
In most cases, recurrent infections are shorter and less severe. They will also tend to produce smaller and fewer ulcers. The blister or ulcer area may have pain, tingling, burning, or itching.


Prevention strategies include:
  • Use latex condoms
  • Avoid oral, anal, or genital sex if your partner has herpes blisters
  • Avoid touching blisters to prevent spreading to other parts of the body
If you are pregnant and have herpes, tell your doctor. Steps can be taken to help prevent your newborn from getting the infection.


The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

International Herpes Alliance



Health Canada

Sex Information and Education Council of Canada



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