> Genital herpes – Young and Free

Genital herpes

What is herpes? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments available?

Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which is the same virus that causes cold sores.

There are two types of herpes, HSV 1 and HSV 2. They can be passed on through skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex without condoms.

Both types can cause:

  • cold sores on the mouth
  • genital herpes
  • painful infections (called ‘whitlows’) on the fingers and hands.

Blisters are the main symptom of herpes and may show four to seven days after infection. However, you may never get blisters, get them once, or they may come back now and again.

Before blisters appear, your skin may itch, tingle or feel numb. They can be painful, especially when going to the toilet, and might cause discharge from the penis, vagina or rectum. Usually they are less painful and frequent over time. You may also feel tired, with flu-like aches and swollen glands.

A herpes blister can appear on various parts of the body, including:

  • in or around the mouth (known as cold sores)
  • throat
  • penis
  • vagina
  • rectum
  • sometimes on the thighs, buttocks and other areas.

Blisters hold an infectious clear liquid before they burst, scab over and heal within two to four weeks.

Infection is more likely when blisters are on the skin but it sometimes happens when no blisters are present – especially before or straight after an outbreak.

You won’t see any blisters inside the vagina, throat or rectum. If you kiss or have oral sex when you have cold sores on your mouth (or if you are just about to get one), you risk giving your partner herpes on their lips or genitals.

Condoms cut the risk of getting or passing on herpes if they cover the affected area.

Wash your hands after touching blisters, especially before handling contact lenses because herpes can cause an eye infection.

Avoid things that trigger herpes outbreaks such as a lack of sleep, sunbathing or stress.

Although there’s no cure for genital herpes, as the herpes virus stays in your body for life, the symptoms can usually be controlled using antiviral medicine.

You can read more about genital herpes on Terrence Higgins Trust’s website.