What is it?

Genital Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV Type 1 and Type 2. Both types can infect the genital area (which includes the anus) and mouth.

How do I get Genital Herpes?

Herpes is passed on both sexually and non-sexually during skin-to-skin contact such as direct contact with another person with a sore on their lip, penis or rectum. The herpes virus is most easily passed on when there are sores or blisters present, but can also be passed on when there are no visible symptoms. HSV will become inactive and occasionally you may have a re-occurrence/episode when you feel a bit run down. Such episodes may not be as severe as the first infection because your body has produced antibodies to help fight the infection.

What symptoms or signs might I notice?

You may not experience any symptoms. If you do, symptoms usually start with tingling, itching, burning or pain followed by the appearance of painful red spots which then form blisters. These blisters then form scabs. However, blisters do not always occur. You may also experience flu-like symptoms. If symptoms occur they generally show up between two to twelve days after you have been exposed to the virus, but it may take much longer.

How will I be tested for Genital Herpes?

If you have blisters or sores a clinician will have a look at them and often diagnose them from this. They will take a swab from them and send this to the laboratory for testing. There is a blood test that can look for antibodies to the virus but this is not routinely carried out in practise as it does not inform you of where on your body the herpes is located.

How will I be treated for Genital Herpes?

The aim of treatment is to suppress the virus by the use of anti-viral treatments that can reduce symptoms and speed up the recovery. The frequency of episodes/re-occurrences varies from person to person, but may become less frequent and in time may stop altogether.

How can I avoid Genital Herpes?

Condoms can reduce the risk of you getting the herpes virus, but they do not always cover the infected area. The virus may be present on the skin anywhere in the genital and anal area. Avoiding sexual contact if you or your partner have visible blisters or sores will prevent the transmission of herpes. If you are HIV-negative, an episode of herpes can make you more vulnerable to getting HIV.

What if I’m HIV-positive?

If you are still currently “detectable” for HIV and get herpes, you may experience repeated herpes re-occurrences that are more serious than for men who are HIV negative. However, it is possible to manage herpes effectively, but the severity and frequency of episodes/re-occurrences of anal and genital herpes may increase depending on how weak your immune system is.

Where can I get help?

If you think you might have Genital Herpes, get a check up at Steve Retson Project or Sandyford sexual health services. Click on the services link for check up options.