Genital Herpes

What Is It?

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are types of the virus, which affect the mouth and nose (known as cold sores) or the genital and anal area.

Genital herpes is a common viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. New cases of genital herpes are most common among women and men over 20.

Genital herpes is passed from one person to another through unprotected vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex (kissing, licking or sucking someone’s genitals). It can also be passed on through close genital contact (when the skin touches).

An initial outbreak of genital herpes may be followed by the virus being inactive in the body for a while before becoming active again and causing a further outbreaks, also called  ‘recurrent outbreaks’.

How Is It Passed On?

It is passed on by unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, or sharing sex toys.

What Are The Symptoms?

Often symptoms show are very mild and go unnoticed, but if you have symptoms they may include:

  • Blisters on or in the vagina, cervix, urethra rectum, anus or penis that leave painful sores when they burst
  • Tingling or itching in the affected area
  • Flu-like symptoms such as swollen glands, backache and headache
  • Pain when passing urine

How Is It Treated?

A swab is taken from one of the sores and a sample of urine may be taken. More information about herpes can be obtained from your local GUM clinic or Herpes Viruses Association.

As yet no cure is available for genital herpes, but an anti-viral drug (Aciclovir) can reduce the severity of the first and recurrent episodes as well as the length of the first episode. It is important to get treatment as soon as possible for it to have an effect on symptoms.

Most people will only have one or two outbreaks of genital herpes but some may have more regular recurrences.

Remember treatment in a STI clinic is confidential, non-judgmental and free. Staff in the clinic are trained to treat STIs in an understanding and helpful way so there is no need for you to feel embarrassed.