Herpes Home > Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus. This sexually transmitted disease affects more than one in five adolescents and adults. During a herpes outbreak, tender ulcers will generally appear around the genitals or rectum. While there is no cure for genital herpes, many medications are available to help prevent and shorten outbreaks.

What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that normally affects the genitals, buttocks, thighs, or anal opening. It is caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is in the same family of viruses that cause chickenpox, shingles, and mononucleosis (mono).
There are two types of HSV that cause genital herpes:
  • HSV type 1 most commonly infects the mouth and lips, causing sores known as fever blisters or cold sores. It is also an important cause of sores to the genitals through oral sex. Up to 30 percent of genital herpes cases are caused by HSV-1.
  • HSV type 2 is the usual cause of genital herpes, but it can also infect the mouth through oral sex.
(Click Genital Herpes Causes for more information on these two viruses.)

Is There a Cure?

Preventing a herpes infection in the first place is always the best medicine, because there is no cure for genital herpes (see Preventing Genital Herpes). Once you have the virus, it stays in your body, and there is a chance that you will have herpes outbreaks. Medication can shorten and stop outbreaks from happening, but it cannot cure the condition.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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