What is it?

Genital Herpes is an infection most often caused by the herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2), and less frequently by the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), which is also responsible for cold sores.

Who has it?

About 1 in 6 Americans ages 14-49 are infected with genital herpes. It’s more common among females, infecting nearly 1 in 5 women ages 14-49, as opposed to 1 in 9 men in the same age range. Women are more at risk because the virus is more easily transmitted from an infected male to a female partner during sex.

How do you get it?

Herpes can be passed through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, or any other skin-to-skin contact with infected areas. Once you’ve been infected with herpes, the virus will always be in your body, and can be transmitted even when there aren’t any visible sores or symptoms.

How do you know you have it?

Many people infected by herpes get sores or blisters on their penis, vagina, buttocks, or thighs, but some people won’t show any symptoms! For those who do show symptoms, an outbreak may only happen once, or many times, but the infection is always there.

How do you test for it?

If you’re not showing any symptoms, but are concerned you may have Herpes, your medical provider can perform a blood test, though the results may not be totally accurate. If you do have blisters or sores, ask your doctor or nurse practitioner to take a look at them — they may need to take a sample.

Can you get rid of it?

Unfortunately, once the herpes virus is in your body it will stay with you for the rest of your life. On the plus side, there are medications which can decrease your partners’ risk of contracting the virus, and will help sores heal more quickly. Making sure to take your medication everyday — not only during symptom outbreaks — can help outbreaks occur less often.

How do you keep from getting it?

Like all STDs, the only sure-fire way to keep from getting herpes is abstinence. However if you are sexually active, you can avoid herpes by being mutually monogamous with a partner who is not infected with the herpes virus. Herpes can be passed by touching, so although condoms can reduce the rise of contracting herpes, they aren’t 100% effective.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Even when you’re not showing symptoms, herpes can be passed to you partners. Pregnant women infected with herpes may pass the virus to their babies during childbirth, and herpes infection increases your chances of getting HIV. Very rarely, the herpes virus may spread to the brain and spinal cord.

Worried about STDs? Give your local family planning clinic a call.

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