UT University Health Services

Genital Herpes

Herpes is a viral infection that is spread by genital contact, oral sex, or oral-anal contact during an active outbreak or during the few days before an outbreak. Approximately 17% of people ages 14-49 have herpes in the United States.

Common Symptoms

Herpes most often causes very mild or no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Bumps that may be mistaken for irritated pores or ingrown hairs (mild symptoms)
  • Painful blisters at the site of infection that heal slowly
  • Occasionally, flu-like symptoms at first onset

The development of blisters is often referred to as an "outbreak" because the symptoms onset, peak, and then heal. The first outbreak you experience will likely be the most severe. Outbreaks usually lessen in intensity and frequency over time.

What’s the difference between oral herpes and genital herpes?

Herpes is caused by two related viruses—herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2). About 50% of the U.S. population has HSV-1—the virus that causes almost all cases of oral herpes. Genital herpes, on the other hand, is most often caused by HSV-2—although it can sometimes be caused by HSV-1 via oral sex. Outbreaks of oral herpes are sometimes referred to as a “fever blister” or “cold sore.” People with genital herpes, on the other hand, can experience social stigma because of their condition. However, both oral and genital herpes are highly similar chronic skin conditions.

Prevention and Treatment

If you are sexually active, your chance of contracting genital herpes can be significantly reduced by using condoms and dental dams correctly and consistently. However, because herpes can also infect the skin around the penis, vagina, and anus, condoms cannot completely eliminate the risk of transmission.

Like many other chronic skin conditions, herpes outbreaks can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Herpes can be treated, but not cured. Medication can lengthen the period of time between outbreaks or shorten the duration of each outbreak, or it may prevent outbreaks entirely.

Herpes is easiest to spread during active outbreaks. Avoiding sexual contact during an outbreak is an effective way to avoid spreading herpes to your sexual partners.

If you are sexually active, it is important that you get tested regularly for STIs including genital herpes, even if you do not have any symptoms.

Partner Notification

If you test positive for herpes, it is important that you notify previous sexual partners so that they can get tested, too. UHS staff can talk you through the partner notification process. UHS also offers resources online to help you talk to your partner.

You can get tested for herpes and all other STIs at University Health Services. Call (512) 471-4955 or go online to make an appointment.

Other Sexually Transmitted Infections

Hepatitis B
Sexually Transmitted Infections

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