Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is caused by a virus which is easily passed from one person to another through sexual contact.

It can be passed from one person to another during sex with someone who is having an outbreak of genital herpes at the time or by skin contact with a herpes simplex sore.

There are two types of the virus known as herpes simplex virus 1 and herpes simplex virus 2, which are found on the mouth, nose (cold sores), on the genital and anal area and on the eyes, fingers and hands. Once you have the virus it can remain in your body and may be passed on before symptoms are noticeable or after they have disappeared.

Genital herpes can spread if you have vaginal, anal, oral sex, or share sex toys. An outbreak of gential herpes is referred to as an episode.

How to protect yourself

The blisters and sores are highly infectious so if you or your partner has cold sores or genital herpes:

  • Avoid kissing when you or your partner has cold sores around the mouth.
  • Avoid oral sex when you or your partner has mouth or genital sores.
  • Avoid any genital or anal contact when you or your partner has genital sores.
  • Avoid vaginal, anal or oral sex if you feel an episode starting.

Signs and symptoms

If can take two days to several weeks or longer after coming into contact with the virus before any signs or symptoms appear. In most people it takes around three to four days. Many people will not have any visible signs or symptoms at all, or not be aware of them. If you do get symptoms here are the usual patterns.

First episode of genital herpes

You may have some or all of the following:

  • Small, fluid filled blisters anywhere in the genital or anal area, which quickly burst leaving small red sores which can be painful.
  • Stinging, tingling or itching in the genital anal area.
  • Feeling generally unwell with flu-like symptoms such as fever, tiredness, headache, swollen glands, aches and pains in the lower back and down the legs or in the groin.

Recurrent genital herpes

Many people will never get another episode after the first one. In those who do, the symptoms are usually much milder and clear up much more quickly. Often there is an early warning tingling sensation before an episode, the blisters are fewer, smaller, less painful and heal more quickly and there are no flu-like symptoms.

Any concerns?

If you have any concerns please contact your local GUM clinic, see map of services.

Page last updated:28 October 2014