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Genital herpes is a common condition that is easily spread through sexual contact
What Causes Herpes?
Genital herpes is a common disease transmitted sexually. It is caused by infection with
one of two kinds of microscopic organisms called herpes simplex virus, types 1 and 2
(HSV-1 and HSV-2). These viruses also cause cold sores on the mouth.
Herpes causes particular problems for pregnant women, since babies can be infected
during their passage through the birth canal if HSV is present. This rare occurrence can
usually be prevented with careful management.
How You Know You Have Genital Herpes
HSV infection sometimes causes no symptoms at all; the body's immune system keeps the virus under control. Usually, infection causes an outbreak of sores in the genital or anal area. Sores may appear in the following places:
Before the appearance of sores there can sometimes be other symptoms. These may include:
Herpes sores appear, usually two to twenty days after the initial infection, as a
cluster of small blisters. After a day or two these break down into small red ulcers,
which scab over and heal after a few days. Some people experience only one outbreak, but
about half will have recurring episodes.
The extent, severity and length of herpes outbreaks varies from person to person. The
usual pattern is for later attacks to be less severe than the initial one, and for attacks
to become less frequent over time.
Many people with herpes find that outbreaks are linked to events in their lives. These may include:
How Herpes Is Spread
HSV infection may be spread by vaginal, anal or oral sex. Infection comes through
direct contact with blisters or ulcers, not necessarily during penetration. Thus, HSV can
be spread by any kind of sex. Non-sexual touching of affected areas can also spread
infection in some circumstances. Very rarely, herpes can be spread to the eyes, or to cuts
or abrasions in the skin.
Because HSV infection can have serious consequences for women, heterosexual men have a particular responsibility not to pass the infection to their female sexual partners. Sexually active men should have regular check-ups for herpes and HSV infection.