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Genital herpes is a virus infection of the genitals transmitted by sexual relations (intercourse or oral sex). Genital herpes may increase the risk of cervical cancer. The penis, vagina, cervix, thighs, and buttocks (sometimes) are involved. Genital herpes can affect sexually active persons of both sexes and all ages. Appropriate health care includes: self-care after diagnosis; physician's monitoring of general condition and medications.


  • Painful blisters, preceded by itching and irritation, on the vaginal lips or the penis. In females, the blisters may extend into the vagina to the cervix and urethra. After a few days, the blisters rupture and leave painful, shallow ulcers which last 1 to 3 weeks.
  • Difficult, painful urination; enlarged lymph glands; fever; feeling ill.


  • Genital herpes is typically caused by Herpes type 2 virus (HSV-2). Oral herpes is typically caused by Herpes type 1 virus (HSV-1). However, both types can be contracted in either location, and both will look, feel, and act the same.

    Genital herpes is often spread while a partner has an active herpes lesion. Lesions may be on the genitals, hands, lips or mouth. Herpes can also be spread during the beginning phase of an outbreak, when there's a tingling or itching feeling below the skin, or when the virus sheds itself on the skin, and there are no symptoms of the disease at all. The virus lies dormant inside the infected cells until conditions for multiplication are right; then the infected cells grow.

  • A generalized form of herpes that can be fatal can be transmitted from an actively infected mother to the newborn. Infection takes place as the fetus passes through the mother's birth canal.


  • Serious illness that has lowered resistance.
  • Use of immunosuppressive or anti-cancer drugs.
  • Stress (increases susceptibility to a primary infection or a recurrence). Stress may lead to diminished efficiency of the immune responses that usually suppress growth of the virus.


    Instructions for a son or daughter who is sexually active: avoid sexual intercourse if either partner has blisters or sores; use a latex condom during intercourse if either sex partner has inactive genital herpes; avoid oral sex with a partner who has cold sores on the mouth; if you are pregnant, tell your doctor if you have had herpes or any genital lesions in the past. Precautions should be taken to prevent infection of the baby.



    Your own observation of symptoms; medical history and physical exam by a doctor; smear of lesions on glass slide to study microscopically; viral or tissue culture.


  • Generalized disease and death in persons of any age who must take anti-cancer drugs or immunosuppressive drugs.
  • Transmittal of life-threatening systemic herpes to a newborn infant from an infected mother.
  • Secondary bacterial infection.


  • Genital herpes is currently considered incurable, but symptoms can be relieved with treatment.
  • During symptom-free periods, the virus returns to its dormant state. Symptoms recur when the virus is reactivated. Recurrent symptoms are not new infections.
  • The discomfort varies from person to person and from time to time in the same person. Usually, the first herpes infection is much more uncomfortable than following ones.



  • Females should wear cotton panties or pantyhose with a cotton crotch--not panties made from non-ventilating materials.
  • Females should not douche unless told to by a doctor.
  • To reduce pain during urination, females may urinate in a bath or shower, or urinate through a tubular device, such as a toilet-paper roll or plastic cup with the end cut out.

    Your child's doctor may prescribe an anti-viral drug, such as acyclovir, in oral or topical form. This drug reduces the intensity and duration of the first attack. It does not prevent recurrent attacks.

    Your son or daughter should reduce normal activities until fever diminishes and feeling of well-being returns. Your sexually-active child should not resume sexual relations until at least 1 month after full recovery.

    No special diet.


    When signs of infection have decreased, appetite returns, and alertness, strength, and feeling of well-being will allow.


  • Your son or daughter has symptoms of genital herpes.
  • Symptoms don't improve in 1 week, despite treatment.
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or swelling occurs.
  • Fever returns during treatment or your son or daughter becomes generally ill.
  • Symptoms of herpes recur after treatment. ‡
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