Genital herpes in women

Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD., July 7, 2017

Genital herpes is an infection caused by the HSV-2 virus (herpes simplex virus 2). An HSV-2 infection can cause painful outbreaks in the genital region, but most often it produces no symptoms at all. Herpes is a lifelong disease. It can be treated, but can not be cured.

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About one out of five women aged 14 to 49 years in the US has genital herpes, making it one of the most common STDs that affects women. This number only represents a small number of actual cases of HSV-2 in women, as nearly 90% of women with HSV-2 aren't aware of their infection because they don't have symptoms and it’s commonly tested for.

What are the common symptoms of herpes in women?

HSV-2 can cause some unpleasant symptoms in women, including painful blisters in the genital region. It is far more common, however, for women with herpes to experience no symptoms at all and not know they are infected. This makes it very difficult to prevent spreading the infection to sexual partners. Transmission from a male infected with herpes to a female partner is easier than vice versa. This, together with the fact that the majority of women with HSV-2 won't have symptoms, makes testing extremely important.

Is it possible to have complications or long-term consequences with a herpes infection?

Luckily, HSV-2 rarely causes any complications or long term medical problems in women or men. This is part of the reason why testing is not commonly done.

How is herpes in women spread?

Herpes is spread by genital-to-genital, skin-to-skin contact. Herpes can be spread even if an outbreak isn't present. Condom use can decrease the risk of spreading herpes, but doesn't completely eliminate it.

What is required for herpes testing for women, and how accurate is it?

Screening for herpes type 2 (HSV-2) is easy, and only requires It’s a simple blood test. The test detects HSV-2 whether or not you're having symptoms. Diagnosing and managing genital herpes can decrease the risk of spreading the virus to a partner.

What is the treatment for herpes in women?

The treatment for a HSV-2 outbreak is antiviral medication, which is aimed at reducing the number, frequency, and severity of outbreaks.It's not always necessary to treat herpes, but medication can be helpful to reduce the duration and severity of outbreaks, or to lessen the chance of transmission to a sexual partner who is negative for HSV-2.

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