Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). While HSV-1 is generally associated with oral herpes (cold sores and fever blisters), it is possible for this virus to infect the genitals through mouth-to-genital contact, or, if someone is already infected in the genital region, genital-to-genital contact. Herpes is an extremely common STI: one in six people between the ages of 14 and 49 are infected with HSV-1. Herpes is more prevalent in women, with one in five woman being infected between the ages of 14 and 49, as opposed to one in nine men. Studies show that during heterosexual intercourse, it is easier for a woman to contract HSV-2 from her partner than it is for a man. Many people with herpes are unaware of their infection, since the virus is not always symptomatic. When symptoms do occur, they present as painful sores in the genital area, fever and swollen glands. Generally spread through sexual contact, herpes is spread by skin-to-skin contact during an outbreak, whether or not sores are present (although the virus is far easier to contract when sores are present). Condoms decrease the risk of spreading herpes; however, since the herpes virus can be present on skin that is not covered by the condom, it is still possible to spread the infection. Because it is a viral STI, there is no cure for HSV-1 or HSV-2, although antivirals can shorten the length of outbreaks. Herpes is diagnosed either by swabbing the sores during an outbreak or looking for HSV-1 and HSV-2 antibodies in a blood test between outbreaks.
For more information on herpes, visit http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm.