Hesperian Health Guides

Genital Herpes

a woman's genitals with sores
blisters from genital herpes
a woman's genitals with sores

Genital herpes is a STI caused by a virus. There is no cure for herpes, but treatment can make you feel better.

Genital herpes produces painful sores on the genitals or anus that come and go for months or years. The sores can spread to the mouth during oral sex. (Some mouth sores—called cold sores—are caused by a different type of herpes.)

Herpes can be passed from mother to baby if the mother has herpes sores in the vagina during childbirth. A woman in labor with a herpes sore should give birth in a hospital, usually by caesarean surgery (C-section). Treat the mother during the last month of her pregnancy to prevent sores from passing during birth.

Other infections can easily pass person to person through genital sores, especially hepatitis B, HIV, and other STIs. To prevent spreading or getting these infections, get treatment and avoid sex until the sores heal.

  • tingling, itching, or painful feeling of skin on the genitals or, less commonly, on the thighs
  • small blisters that burst and form painful, open sores on the genitals

The first time you get herpes sores, they can last for 3 weeks or more. You can have fever, headache, body ache, chills, or swollen lymph nodes in the groin. The next infections are usually not as bad as the first one. Once a person has the virus, sores may reappear many times. To relieve the pain of herpes sores, see How To Feel Better While You Heal From a STI.


There is no cure for herpes, but acyclovir makes the infection milder and less painful.


Reduce the spread of herpes by not having sex when you have a sore. Using a condom that covers the sore may reduce spreading. Condoms for women may work even better because they cover more of the genitals.

Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching a sore so your fingers do not spread the infection to other people in your family.

This page was updated:16 Oct 2019