Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the Herpes simplex virus. There are two types of viruses that cause herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2.
- HSV 1 is the virus that causes cold sores on the lips, but can infect the genitals through oral sex.
- HSV 2 is more common on the genitals.
Genital herpes is a life-long infection, although symptoms may come and go. Some people who are infected with herpes have frequent symptom outbreaks and others rarely or never have an outbreak.
How do you get herpes?
You can get herpes by having direct contact with infected skin, sores or blisters.
- Herpes is passed from the mouth or genitals of a person who has herpes during oral, vaginal or anal sex or fingering.
- The virus is often spread just before or during a herpes outbreak. It can also be spread when an infected person does not have any symptoms.
How do I know I have herpes?
Watch your body for changes. Symptoms usually appear two to 21 days after contact with an infected person.
Signs and symptoms
For some people the symptoms of a herpes outbreak are mild and the person may not know they have herpes. Some signs and symptoms of genital herpes include:
- Itching, tingling or burning skin at the site of the sore
- Painful blisters or sores on or near the genitals, which may last a few days to weeks
- Tender and enlarged lymph nodes
After the first outbreak, further outbreaks are usually less severe and do not last as long.
Testing for herpes
If you think that you are having a herpes outbreak, you should see a doctor as soon as possible after your symptoms start. A doctor will:
- Check your sores or blisters
- Take a swab from the blister or sore to send to the lab to confirm if you have herpes
If you want a blood test for herpes, there may be a cost to you.
Treatment for herpes
There is no cure for herpes. You can take antiviral medication each time you have an outbreak to help the sores heal faster.
If you have a lot of outbreaks and the outbreaks interfere with your daily life, talk to your doctor about medication that can prevent outbreaks.
Pregnancy & herpes
Women who have genital herpes can get pregnant, have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
- The risk of passing herpes on to a baby during delivery is highest when you get infected with herpes during pregnancy or if you have an outbreak at the time of delivery.
- Talk to your doctor or midwife about how to manage herpes during your pregnancy.
- In some cases, your doctor may decide you need antiviral treatment before delivery and a caesarean section to lower the risk of passing herpes to your baby during delivery.
Where to get help for genital herpes
How to prevent herpes
A person who has herpes can pass the virus to you even when they are not having an outbreak. Here are some tips to protect yourself from herpes:
- Choose not to have sex.
- Be aware that herpes can be passed through vaginal, oral or anal sex or any time there is close skin-to-skin contact.
- Use a condom or dental dam from start to finish every time you have sex. A condom or dental dam only protects the skin covered by the condom.
- Limit the number of sexual partners you have. The chance of getting asexually transmitted infection goes up with each new sexual partner.
- Ask your sexual partner about their history of sexually transmitted infections before having vaginal, anal or oral sex.
- Be aware of the symptoms of herpes and do not have sex or close skin-to-skin contact when herpes sores or other symptoms are present.
- Be aware that herpes can be transmitted even when there are no symptoms.
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