Pāpaka taihemahema 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). HSV also causes cold sores on the face.

How you get genital herpes

Herpes can be spread through oral, vaginal or anal intercourse. If you touch a cold sore with your finger and then perform manual sex on another person, you can infect them that way. You can also transfer facial herpes to someone’s genitals during oral sex.

Symptoms of genital herpes

Many people do not get any symptoms with herpes infection.

It will take a few weeks after you get the virus before you get any symptoms. Sometimes, you do not 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. 

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

Diagnosing genital herpes

If you have symptoms, your healthcare provider will be able to 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 are not 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).

Preventing genital herpes and their spread

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

Safer sex and condoms (internal link)

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)