Genital herpes is caused by a virus that remains in the body forever. Not everyone with herpes has symptoms, but they can pass on the virus.
What is it?
The genital herpes virus enters the body through the skin and the mucus membranes of the mouth, penis, vagina or anus. Condoms do not provide 100% protection. A condom does not cover all the blisters. The virus can also be transmitted via someone’s fingers or mouth to other parts of their own body or someone else’s. Cold sores, chicken pox and shingles are also caused by a herpes virus. Herpes can be dangerous for a newborn baby.
- Itching and an irritating, burning or painful sensation
- Red patches on the skin or mucus membranes
- Little blisters or sores on or around the penis or vagina
- Little blisters or sores in difficult to see places like the cervix or around the anus
- Pain when urinating
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The virus remains in the body forever. Treatment is only necessary if there are symptoms. Medication can limit the duration and extent of a herpes attack. You must start treatment soon after the symptoms begin. Cold sore creams do not work for genital herpes.
Have I got it?
The first symptoms usually appear a week after infection with the herpes virus. These can be accompanied by pain, fever and swollen glands. After about three weeks the blisters and sores shrink. It may seem as if the virus has disappeared, but new blisters can always appear. Menstruation, flu, poor resistance or stress can increase the chance of a new herpes attack. The first attack is usually the worst.
- Have an STI test
- When you have a herpes attack take the medication as soon as possible
- If you have a herpes attack six or more times a year, talk to the doctor about long-term treatment
- Tell a regular sexual partner that you are carrying the herpes virus
- Ideally you should not have sex during a herpes attack. In any case, use a condom
- Avoid touching blisters, wounds or scabs
- Wash your hands thoroughly if you have touched infected skin
- No oral sex (blow job or cunnilingus) with a cold sore
- If you are heavily pregnant and have a first herpes attack, tell your midwife or doctor