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Genital Herpes

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 2 minutes read

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus - Type 1 is the usual cause of cold sores around the mouth and also causes about 50% of the cases of genital herpes, and Type 2 usually only causes genital herpes (but can sometimes cause cold sores.) Genital herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal sex, anal sex and occasionally oral sex, but around 80% of people with genital herpes are unaware they have it.

It causes painful blisters on the genitals and the surrounding areas, usually preceded by a tingling sensation and can be most sore the first time you have it. As with many viruses, it can't be eradicated from your system, but symptoms and outbreaks are treatable. See your doctor as soon as possible for confirmation and treatment.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

Herpes is contagious both to other people but also to spread to other areas of your own body so avoid touching the affected area. There is more chance of spreading the virus when sores are present, but it is also possible to pass on the virus from the affected area when there are no current symptoms. It can be passed on by skin-to-skin contact, saliva from someone with oral herpes, genital secretions from someone with genital herpes, and oral sex with someone who has oral herpes.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Herpes can be very painful, and you will need to see your doctor for prescription treatment to reduce the length that symptoms will last. Treatments at the pharmacy can include pain relief that is localised such as a numbing cream, or in the form of pain-relieving tablets.

Am I fit for work?

You may be fit for work, depending on the severity of your symptoms, but should prioritise seeing your doctor so you can start medication.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor or sexual health centre as soon as possible for antiviral tablets (such as Aciclovir), which will reduce your symptoms. Treatment should ideally be started within 48 hours after first noticing the symptoms.

Once the body has come into contact with the herpes virus, it will remain within your system indefinitely, so outbreaks should always be treated as early as possible. You should avoid sexual contact until treated and the symptoms are completely resolved, as the virus is spread by contact between partners, and a condom may not be enough to prevent spread.

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and, if you are comfortable, examine you. Depending on the possible diagnosis, a swab of the blisters may be taken and your doctor can prescribe medication to help with your symptoms.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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