Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that can be caused by the HSV-1 (herpes simplex type 1) or HSV-2 (herpes simplex type 2) viruses. HSV-1 causes infections of the mouth and lips, called “fever blisters”. These can be spread by coming in contact with the saliva of an infected person. This infection can also be spread to the genitals of a partner during oral-genital sexual contact. One in five of the total adolescent and adult population is infected with HSV-2, a genital herpes infection.

Most people have no or minimal signs and symptoms of these infections. If symptoms do occur, they typically appear as blisters or ulcers (sores) around the genitals or rectum. These can be very painful, and may take two to four weeks for them to heal after the first outbreak. Future outbreaks may occur weeks or months after the first, and are usually less severe. HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be released from the sores that the viruses cause, but they also are released between episodes from skin that does not appear to be broken or have a sore. So even if you are not having an outbreak, you can be spreading the virus.

This viral infection stays in the body indefinitely. There is no treatment that can cure herpes.

If you are pregnant, and you test positive for genital herpes, be sure to notify your doctor. HSV-2 can cause potentially fatal infections in newborns if the mother is shedding the virus at the time of delivery. If active herpes sores are present at delivery, a cesarean delivery is usually necessary.