Genital Herpes in Women

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Quick GuideSTDs Pictures Slideshow: Facts About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

STDs Pictures Slideshow: Facts About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus.

  • HSV-1 is most commonly associated with blisters and ulcers around the mouth known as cold sores.
  • HSV-2 is associated with blistering lesions in genital areas that are exposed during sexual contact.

However, both types of herpes simplex virus can infect the mouth or the genital areas, meaning that genital contact with a cold sore on the mouth can lead to genital herpes. Likewise, kissing someone with a cold sore can spread the herpes simplex virus infection.

After the initial outbreak of herpes, the virus travels through the nerves and resides in nerve tissue within the body. Reactivations, or repeat occurrences of the blisters, can occur throughout an individual's lifetime. Among people aged 14 to 49, an estimated 1 out of every 6 people have the infection.

Genital herpes is not the same thing as genital warts. Genital warts are flesh-colored growths that appear on sexually-exposed areas due to infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

How common is genital herpes?

  • Herpes simplex virus infection is very common.
  • Among people aged 14 to 49, an estimated 1 out of every 6 people (15.5% of the population) have been infected with HSV-2, the virus that is predominantly responsible for genital herpes.
  • Estimates suggest that in the US, 776,000 people become infected every year.
  • The viral infection is more common in women than in men.
  • Spread from men to women is known to occur more readily than from women to men.
  • According to WHO estimates, HSV-1 infects 67% of all humans under the age of 50. The majority of infected people are not aware they are infected.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/25/2016
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