Genital herpes is most commonly spread by genital-to-genital or oral-to-genital contact. Risk factors for genital herpes include a history of prior sexually transmitted disease, multiple sexual partners, early age for first sexual intercourse and also poor socioeconomic status.
Herpes simplex virus can be transferred when it is present on the skin or mucosa of one person and another person makes direct skin-to-skin contact with the live virus. It is frequently transmitted by infected persons who are unaware that they are infected.
The main cause of genital herpes is HSV-2 virus but in recent years, the cases of genital herpes caused by HSV-1 have increased significantly. Oral sex can pass on the HSV-1 resulting in cold sores. When the genital area comes in contact with these sores, it leads to genital herpes.
Any person who is sexually active is at risk for genital herpes infection irrespective of the sexuality. This is why genital herpes is noticed in heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual men and women equally. Having multiple sexual partners makes one more vulnerable to this infection. The higher the number of sexual partners a person has, the greater is the risk of catching a genital herpes infection.
Persons with weak immune systems, like HIV patients, are at very high risk for HSV-2. Studies show that 68-81% of patients with HIV are infected with HSV-2. Individuals who have undergone chemotherapy are also prone to genital herpes infection.
Drugs like cocaine suppress the immune system. So does some kidney diseases. Hence, drug-addicts and kidney patients are also at a higher risk of getting diagnosed with genital herpes.
Women are at a higher risk to HSV-2 infection as herpes is more easily transmitted from male-to-female than from female-to-male. This may be the reason that 1 in 4 women have genital herpes compared to 1 in 8 men. However, the cases of recurrent infections in men are twice as those in women.
Genital herpes can also be transferred from an infected pregnant woman to her baby. This can be a very dangerous situation for an infant and can lead to death as the immune system in the newborn is not fully developed.
Ethnicity too plays a role in the risk factors for genital herpes. Caucasians have a higher risk for genital herpes symptoms. Even African Americans are more likely to test positively for HSV-2. In the recent times, a great increase has been noticed in the number of genital herpes cases involving white adolescents.
Many couples have a sexual relation for years without transmitting genital herpes. They can manage this by avoiding any sexual at the time of outbreaks. Using condoms or other protections also can reduce the risk of transfer of the herpes virus.