Genital herpes is a viral infection caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). While some people are asymptomatic, most patients infected with the disease will develop the characteristic lesions on their genitals. These lesions typically form in clusters and resemble cold sores or blisters. They are 1 to 3 mm in size, filled with clear or yellowish fluid, red or pink in appearance, and may be tender to the touch.
In women, the lesions may appear on the labia, vagina, or cervix. In men, the lesions can appear on the scrotum, inside the urethra, and on the head and sides of the penis. In both sexes, the lesions can erupt in or around the anus, buttocks, and thighs. After a few days, the blisters will rupture and ooze fluid or bleed. Scabs form shortly afterwards and the sores eventually heal.
The virus goes through periods of activity and remissions. When the virus activates, it travels through the nerves to the infected surface of the skin and produce genital sores. A person with genital herpes is highly contagious while the virus is active in his or her body. Once the episode passes, the virus returns to the ganglion where it lies dormant for a period of time.
The first year a person has the disease, he or she may experience multiple outbreaks of genital herpes. As time goes by, however, the number of outbreaks generally decreases in frequency. Though there is medication available that can reduce or eliminate outbreaks, there is no cure for genital herpes, and even though a person may not develop sores when the virus is active in his or her body, it is still possible for him or her to spread the virus to another person.