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How Contagious Is Genital Herpes?

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

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This article is Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

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When it comes to having relationships, things quickly become unromantic once you or your partner gets herpes.

Genital herpes is considered a silent infection half of the time. Some people will develop symptoms, while others hardly show any indicators at all. There are also many cases where symptoms are entirely absent. Nonetheless, the infection continues to spread even without the sores.

The lack of awareness on genital herpes infection and how contagious it can get accounts for its rapid spread. According to the CDC, there are about 572,000 new genital herpes infections each year.

If you’re sexually active, getting tested for genital herpes should go on top of your priorities. Find out how contagious genital herpes infection is and what you can do to help stop the spread.

Why Should You Be Concerned About Genital Herpes Transmission?

Sexually active people ought to understand how infectious genital herpes is.

First, once you’re infected, the virus stays inside your body for life. So you’ll become its eternal host.

Most of the time the virus will remain dormant and just hang around inside your system without posing any threat. However, there are several periods within a year that the virus will reactivate, cause unpleasant symptoms, and become highly contagious.

Second, if genital herpes infection is not diagnosed, there is a strong chance of escalating to minor and major complications.

You may experience inflammation in other areas of your body. Likewise, you could develop other medical conditions such as meningitis and encephalitis.

Third, the mere fact that you’re harboring the genital herpes virus will make you exponentially unattractive to any potential partner.

It’s a huge turn off primarily if you have unknowingly transmitted genital herpes infection. Hence, getting tested might just save your love life. Those who are completely aware of their condition are prescribed medications and management plans that minimize transmission of the virus.

What Is Genital Herpes?

A herpes infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes is generally characterized by the presence of painful blisters that can rupture and ooze.

Genital herpes is commonly caused by HSV 2, where sores and blisters form around the genitals and near the anus. On the other hand, HSV 1 causes cold sores where fluid-filled blisters form near the mouth, nose, and even on fingers.


Fluid-filled blisters are the number one symptom of genital herpes. When these blisters appear, it is commonly called an outbreak. You can observe them in the following areas of your body:

  • Vagina
  • Cervix
  • Anus
  • Buttocks
  • Urethra
  • Scrotum
  • Penis

Other symptoms include the following:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Ulcerated sores
  • Itching and inflammation in affected areas
  • Blisters in the mouth and on the face
  • Presence of scabs or crusts

Blisters, in general, may appear two days after the virus was contracted. However, it could also occur as far as 30 days after transmission.

How Is Genital Herpes Transmitted?

Someone with genital herpes transmits the HSV-2 to another person through sexual intercourse. The virus is carried by semen or vaginal secretions.

However, if blisters are present, skin-to-skin contact is enough to get the infection. Hence, sexual activities like vaginal, anal, and oral sex are surefire ways to spread genital herpes.  

Is Genital Herpes Only Contagious During Outbreaks?

You can be infected with genital herpes even when blisters are not present. 

Flare-ups or outbreaks come and go, but the virus remains in your body. That’s why getting tested for genital herpes is a crucial step to halt the spread.

HSV-2 infection can appear asymptomatic, and you may observe zero blisters or any other symptom. Nevertheless, you remain a carrier of the virus and an infected person can still go through genital viral shedding.

Genital herpes can be transmitted even when symptoms are not present. Therefore, if you’re carefree with your sexual activities, you can just easily pass the infection to your partner.

What Triggers Genital Herpes Outbreaks?

Flare-ups of genital herpes blisters do not simply occur spontaneously. Instead, most of the times, they are triggered by the following conditions:

  • Emotional stress
  • Poor immune system
  • Genital stimulation
  • Physical strains
  • Menstruation
  • Injuries
  • Diseases and several medical conditions

How Is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?

If you are in the middle of an outbreak, your doctor will perform a close examination of your blisters

However, in the absence of these blisters, laboratory tests are required.

One blood test for this infection is the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) 1 and 2 IgM Blood Test. This test is carried out to confirm herpes infection regardless of if it is caused by HSV 1 or 2. It detects the immunoglobulin M antibodies which are produced when the herpes virus enters the body system.

But if your doctor orders a more specific blood test for HSV 2, you can avail of the Genital Herpes Test (HSV 2) IgG Blood Test. This type of lab test screens the presence of HSV 2 by identifying and measuring the number of IgG antibodies produced in response to the infection.

Once you harbor the HSV 2 virus, your body will produce immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. Therefore, the Genital Herpes Blood Test is recommended for those who are sexually active, have multiple sexual partners, and women who are pregnant.   

Aside from using antibody tests, you can also order the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Type 1-Specific Antibodies IgG Blood Test. While serology tests are often effective in detecting HSV, a DNA PCR Blood Test is deemed more sensitive by gynecologists.

How to Prevent the Spread of Genital Herpes?

The first step in preventing the transmission of genital herpes is knowing whether you are infected or not. Then, you can take the following actions to protect yourself and your partner:

  • Know the sexual profile of your partner.
  • Inform your partner of your current situation.
  • Use latex condoms and dental dams during sex to minimize transmission.
  • Avoid sexual intercourse, especially during outbreaks.

Treatments Available for Genital Herpes

Unfortunately, genital herpes still has no direct cure.

But it doesn’t mean that you’ll simply have to live with it and forget about sex or normalcy in general. Instead, managing genital herpes infection comes with prescribed drugs and at-home remedies.

Your doctor will provide treatment plans that may include antiviral therapies depending on the prevalence of outbreaks. Some of the medications given to those diagnosed with genital herpes are famciclovir, acyclovir, and valacyclovir.

During flare-ups, you can ease the pain and discomfort through the following means:

  • Applying a cold compress on the blister-filled area
  • Taking a warm bath
  • Wearing loose clothing and comfortable cotton underwear
  • Taking pain relievers

The Bottom Line

Genital herpes is highly contagious if it is not diagnosed in time.

What’s even more problematic about this infection is that it could appear without any symptoms. Therefore, it only makes sense to undergo regular testing if you’re sexually active or pregnant.

Getting tested is a vital way to treat herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases.

If you’re concerned about your privacy and the availability of the tests, you can simply choose from our array of Sexual Health Blood Tests and order them online. You can even access your results through your Personalabs account.

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