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Herpes Basics

Here are the CDC's answers to common questions about genital herpes. Find more questions and answers in Genital Herpes—CDC Fact Sheet.

  • Genital herpes is a common STD, and most people with genital herpes infection do not know they have it.
  • You can get genital herpes from an infected partner, even if your partner has no herpes symptoms.
  • There is no cure for herpes, but medication is available to reduce symptoms and make it less likely that you will spread herpes to a sex partner.

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is an STD caused by two types of viruses. The viruses are called herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2.

How common is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is common in the United States. In the United States, about one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes.

How is genital herpes spread?

You can get herpes by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has the disease.

Fluids found in a herpes sore carry the virus, and contact with those fluids can cause infection. You can also get herpes from an infected sex partner who does not have a visible sore or who may not know he or she is infected because the virus can be released through your skin and spread the infection to your sex partner(s).

How can I avoid getting herpes?

You can protect yourself from getting herpes by:

  • Not having sex.
  • Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results.
  • Using latex condoms and dental dams the right way every time you have sex.

Herpes symptoms can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered by a latex condom. However, outbreaks can also occur in areas that are not covered by a condom, so condoms may not fully protect you from getting herpes.

Can herpes be cured?

There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks. One of these herpes medicines can be taken daily, and makes it less likely that you will pass the infection on to your sex partner(s).

Last Updated: 
9/1/15