What causes genital herpes?

What causes genital herpes?

The cause of herpes directly relates to its type (HSV-1 or HSV-2). HSV-1 herpes is transmitted through oral secretions or sores that develop on the skin. Typically, this type is transmitted through kissing (exchanging of saliva) or sharing objects such as eating utensils or toothbrushes.

Genital herpes (HSV-2) is transmitted from person to person during sexual contact (oral, anal, vaginal) with an infected individual. (3) Both types can be spread, even without the presence of any physical symptoms (sores).

A pregnant woman with genital herpes can pass on her infection to the unborn baby during childbirth. A herpes infection may come and go, and can also be brought on by the following conditions:

  • General illness (mild or serious), such as a cold or flu
  • Fatigue
  • Stress (physical or emotional)
  • Immunosuppression (due to AIDS or treatment methods such as chemotherapy or steroid medications)
  • Trauma to the affected area (including sexual activity)
  • Menstruation

What happens

Once the virus enters the body through the skin, it travels along the nerve paths. The virus may then be either inactive (become dormant in the nerves but remain there indefinitely) or active (causing an outbreak of symptoms).

When active, the virus travels back along the nerve path to the surface of the skin. This results in physical symptoms where the virus begins to shed.

An active virus is easily passed from person to person through sexual contact.


3. U.S Department of Health & Human Services. March 2018. Genital Herpes: https://www.hhs.gov/opa/reproductive-health/fact-sheets/sexually-transmitted-diseases/herpes/index.html [Accessed 29.08.2018]


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