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Herpes (genital)

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read
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Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) that also causes cold sores around the mouth. Herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal sex, anal sex, and, occasionally, oral sex.

It causes painful blisters on the genitals and the surrounding areas, usually preceded by a tingling sensation. It is most sore the first time you have it. As with many viruses, they 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 to other people. But it can also spread to other areas of your 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 with 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 of symptoms. Treatments at the pharmacy can include pain relief that is localized, such as numbing cream or in the form of pain-relieving tablets.

Am I fit for work?

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

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor or sexual health center as soon as possible for antiviral tablets (acyclovir), 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 examine you if you are comfortable. 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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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
EmailFacebookPinterestTwitter
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