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HealthInfo Canterbury

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It causes blisters or ulcers on genital skin (around the vagina in women, or on the penis in men). The blisters or ulcers are like cold sores that happen around your mouth.

It's passed on by sexual contact, including oral sex. You can pass on herpes even if you don’t have any sores at the time.

Genital herpes during pregnancy can cause problems. Discuss this with your midwife or GP.

Symptoms of genital herpes

It will take a few weeks after you get the virus before you get any symptoms. Sometimes, you don’t get sores until months or years later.

Herpes sores are usually painful, and you may have several of them. The first time you get herpes you may also feel unwell, a bit like getting the flu. Many people don’t get any symptoms with herpes infection.

If you have symptoms, a GP or practice nurse can tell if you have herpes. They may take a swab from a sore to be sure.

Treating genital herpes

Genital herpes is treated with antiviral tablets. The tablets help get rid of your symptoms quickly. But they aren't a cure for the virus, which may stay in your body.

This means the sores can come back. If this happens, these outbreaks are usually mild and heal up within a week.

Some people get a lot of outbreaks and may need to take antiviral tablets to stop it happening so often.

You can help yourself by not using soap or rubbing on sore skin. Bathing with mild salt water can help.

It also helps to avoid sexual contact when you have sores.

You should discuss herpes with your partner and consider both getting checked for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Using condoms will reduce the risk of passing on or getting genital herpes.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed February 2019.

See also:

Telling your sexual partner (partner notification)

Page reference: 53202

Review key: HIGEH-53202