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 GuideSTD Diagnosis, Images, Symptoms, Treatment

STD Diagnosis, Images, Symptoms, Treatment

What causes genital herpes, and how is it spread?

  • The herpes viruses enter the skin or mucous membrane through tiny, even microscopic, breaks in the tissue when there is contact with an infected person. Because an infected person may spread the disease even when he or she does not have signs or symptoms of herpes, avoiding sexual contact with someone with active blisters does not guarantee protection against the infection. Even normal appearing skin can spread the infection. Clothing that touches genital skin ulcers may transmit herpes simplex virus to others that wear the clothing.
  • The average incubation period (time until symptoms develop) after exposure is 4 days, but symptoms may develop anywhere from 2 to 12 days after you have been exposed to the virus.
  • Individual outbreaks of herpes vary among affected people in terms of their frequency and severity. Outbreaks can be related to the function of the immune system and are typically worse in cases in which the immune system is suppressed. For example, at times of physical or emotional stress, during illness, or when taking certain medications, genital herpes outbreaks may be more likely.

How do you get genital herpes (transmission)?

  • Herpes simplex virus infection is transmitted by direct person-to-person contact.
  • Genital herpes is acquired through sexual contact of any type that involves contact with the genital areas.
  • Genital herpes also can be caused by mouth to genital contact with a person who has cold sores or herpes infection of the mouth.
  • Transmission from an infected male to a female partner is more likely than transmission from an infected woman to a male partner.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/25/2016

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