Overview of Herpes

Herpes is a common skin infection caused by a virus called Herpes Simplex Virus, or HSV. It is spread through skin-to-skin contact. There are two types of herpes: HSV1 and 2. HSV1 is more prevalent and typically causes sores on the face or mouth, which may be known as "cold sores" or "fever blisters," but HSV1 can also occur in the genital region.  HSV2 typically causes sores in the genital region.  About one out of five people in the United States has genital herpes.  Many people who carry either type of the herpes simplex virus have very mild or no symptoms at all.

Signs & Symptoms

While herpes can be asymptomatic (no symptoms), when symptoms are present, the may include:

  • Blisters, sores or rash in the infected area
  • Itching, burning, tingling in the genital area
  • Flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, swollen glands)
  • Painful urination or vaginal discharge


  • Internal and external condoms (only protects area covered by the condom)
  • Dental dams
  • Lube (use condom-safe ones if also using condoms)


There are anti-viral medications that help manage and reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Some anti-viral medications can also help minimize the chance of both transmission and recurrence. There is currently no evidence that non-prescription medications are effective at helping reduce transmission or recurrence.

Testing Recommendations

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend everyone get tested for Herpes, even if they are sexually active.

Why doesn’t CDC recommend testing everyone for this STI?

Although CDC does not recommend that everyone get tested for herpes, herpes testing may be useful in some situations. A herpes culture or herpes blood tests (also called type-specific HSV serologic tests) might be useful

  • If you have genital symptoms that could be related to herpes,
  • If you have (or have had) a sex partner with genital herpes, or
  • If you want a complete STI exam, especially if you have multiple sex partners.

CDC recommends herpes testing for people who have genital symptoms for herpes to confirm that they are infected. These events are called “having an outbreak,” and they appear as blisters on or around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take weeks to heal. Testing allows a doctor to talk with you about what to expect in the future, which medications are available to help manage any symptoms, and how you can lower your risk of spreading the infection to your sex partner(s).

CDC does not recommend herpes testing for most people without symptoms. This is partially because diagnosing genital herpes in someone without symptoms has not shown any change in their sexual behavior (e.g., wearing a condom or not having sex) nor has it stopped the virus from spreading. Also, false positive test results (test results that say you have herpes when you do not actually have the virus) are possible. Even if you do not have symptoms, you should talk openly and honestly about your sexual history with your doctor to find out if you should be tested for any STDs, including herpes.

If you have a partner with genital herpes, testing may also be able to tell if you also have the virus. If you are not infected, your doctor can talk to you about ways to lower your risk of getting genital herpes. If you are infected, your doctor will talk to you about your diagnosis and the possible symptoms of genital herpes.   If you are pregnant and have a partner with genital herpes, it is very important to get tested.  If you get genital herpes during pregnancy, the baby could also become infected. Herpes infections in babies can be life-threatening.

If you would like to be seen by our medical staff, please contact our Appointment Desk to schedule an appointment. Our Advice Nurse service is available at no charge for all UC Davis students to discuss health concerns and the need for medical care. The number to call is 530-752-2349.