Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it causes painful sores and blisters around and on the genitals.

Genital Herpes is caused by a virus called the Herpes Simplex virus (HSV). There are 2 different types of the virus, one type is the same virus that causes cold sores around the mouth.

Genital herpes can cause issues if early or late in pregnancy.

Genital herpes is very easily passed on from person to person. Many people fail to realise they have caught the infection since it is possible to carry the virus without it showing any symptoms.

You can get Genital Herpes from any close contact including kissing, genital contact, oral sex, and sharing sex toys.

You can not get Genital Herpes from objects such as cutlery, dishware or towels - the Herpes virus dies very quickly when away from the skin.

If you do experience symptoms they will usually show themselves between 2 to 12 days after infection, although in some cases people don’t notice any symptoms until many months after infection.

Many people do not experience any symptoms when first contracting the virus, and some never do.

A person’s first episode of Genital Herpes is usually the most severe, symptoms of first infection include:

  • small blisters that burst to leave open red sores 
  • blisters and ulceration on the cervix
  • vaginal discharge
  • pain when peeing or an inability to pee
  • fever or flu-like symptoms

Herpes testing is done by a doctor or sexual health clinic and is a straightforward test using a small cotton bud to take some fluid from 1 of your blisters, it only takes a few minutes and it is not painful.

In the event that your test comes back positive for Herpes, then any current or recent sexual partners should be informed so that they may also get tested.

It may be possible to inform your sexual partners that they may be infected without them knowing it is you who has the infection - discuss this with your doctor or nurse.

There is no known cure for Genital Herpes, but the symptoms usually clear up on their own. 

Once you have become infected then the virus stays in your system and can cause further outbreaks, recurring outbreaks are usually less severe than the first outbreak.

Treatment is usually prescribed and consists of antiviral tablets and cream for the pain. In many cases outbreaks settle down by themselves and hence require no treatment.

In some severe cases when people have more than 6 outbreaks in a year they may need to take antiviral medicine over a longer period.

Genital Herpes can not pass through a condom, however if the virus is around areas of the body not covered by a condom then you could still risk becoming infected when there is close skin contact.

It is commonplace for people to report episodes of Herpes occurring when they are under stress and run down, for females this also includes around the time of menstruation.  Outbreaks can also happen after wearing certain tight clothing.

If you have herpes then you can reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people, ways to do this are:

  • recognise the early warning signs such as itching and inflammation and then do not have sex during this time.
  • avoid contact with others with your sores or blisters
  • avoid kissing and oral sex with cold sores around the mouth
Myth: Getting an STI test is painful

For both men and women an STI test can be as simple and easy as providing a urine sample. Some tests involve having blood taken or visually examining the genitals.

Had unprotected sex?

If you have had unprotected sex this puts you at risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection.

Symptom Checker Find a clinic Do I have an infection? What to expect at the clinic?