The herpes virus enters the body through breaks in the skin or tiny skin abrasions around the mouth, genitals or anus. These abrasions are generally caused by friction during sex and are often so small they cannot be seen. The virus will then live in nerve cells where it will essentially stay for life. For most of the time the herpes virus won't cause any problems. In fact, a person may not even know they are infected with the virus. However, at certain times, the virus will infect skin cells at the surface, causing an outbreak.
Signs and symptoms of herpes may include: itching or irritation around the anal or genital area; sore genitals that may cause pain and difficulty urinating; skin splits; painful blisters; and open sores (ulcers) in or around the mouth, the genital area or the anus.
Despite how common herpes is, it is often under-recognised because the symptoms may be very mild or non-existent. Most who have the disease are not aware they are infected. For others it causes great discomfort. People with herpes have a higher risk of being infected with AIDS. Pregnant mothers can pass the disease on to their child, in rare cases with serious complications.
The CDC estimates that more than 1 in 5 adults in the USA have genital herpes; however, only about 1 in 10 of these persons is aware of his or her infection. This means that up to 50 million people are carriers of herpes.