Causes of Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is an infection of the genitals (penis in men, vulva and vagina in women) and surrounding area of skin. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus. The buttocks and anus may also be affected. There are two types of herpes simplex virus:

  • Type 1 herpes simplex virus is the usual cause of cold sores around the mouth. It also causes more than half of cases of genital herpes.
  • Type 2 herpes simplex virus usually only causes genital herpes. It can sometimes cause cold sores.

How do you get genital herpes?

Genital herpes is usually passed on by skin-to-skin contact with the affected area of someone who is already infected with the virus. The moist skin that lines the mouth, genitals and back passage (anus) is the most susceptible to infection. This means that the virus is most commonly passed on by having vaginal, anal or oral sex, or just close genital contact with an infected person. For example, if you have a cold sore around your mouth, by having oral sex, you may pass on the virus that causes genital herpes.

Herpes simplex virus can also enter through a cut or break in the ordinary skin on other parts of the body. In this way the virus can sometimes affect fingers, hands, knees, etc, if they are in contact with another person's infected area. It is called a whitlow when it is on the fingers.

You are not likely to re-infect yourself with your own virus through accidental touching, or to catch back your own virus from an infected partner, on a different part of your own body.

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Author:
Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
4255 (v46)
Last Checked:
12 October 2015
Next Review:
12 October 2018

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.