Genital Herpes

What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a common infection that causes painful blisters on the genitals and surrounding areas and is caused by the Herpes simplex virus (HSV) They can affect a man or a woman.

There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV), type 1 and type 2.

Both types are highly contagious and can be passed easily from one person to another by direct contact including intimate sexual contact which is why people often refer to it as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

HSV can affect any mucous membrane for example: in the mouth (cold sores).

Genital herpes is a chronic (long-term) condition. The virus remains in your body and can become active again. The average rate of recurrence is four to five times in the first two years after being infected. However, over time, it tends to become active less frequently and each outbreak becomes less severe.

Some people who have genital herpes don’t even know is because in most people it can produce no symptoms or very mild ones. However certain triggers can activate the virus, causing an outbreak.

Who is affected?

Genital herpes is a common condition, especially in people from 20 to 24 years old. Anyone who has sex can catch genital herpes. The people at most risk are those having unprotected sexual intercourse (i.e. not using condoms), especially those with more than one sexual partner This is because it is spread by direct contact with the infectious virus, via unprotected vaginal or anal sex, genital contact (or through oral sex with someone who gets cold sores)

In 2013, 32,279 people attended a sexual health clinic in England with an attack of genital herpes for the first time.

Treating genital herpes

Unfortunately there's no cure for genital herpes, however the symptoms can usually be controlled using antiviral medicines.

Prevention is key:   Avoid sex until symptoms have cleared up and continuing to use a condom afterwards.


The Symptoms and lifespan of this infection are very varied in length and intensity. Warning signs include:

  • itching, tingling or pain in the genital area; blisters or sores may also then then develop.
  • small blisters that eventually break open and produce raw, painful sores that scab and heal over within a few weeks.
  • flu-like symptoms with fever and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Backache and Headache
  • More rarely, blisters may occur inside the urethra -- the tube urine passes through on its way out of your body.
  • The virus may reactivate without causing any symptoms of infection at all.


The risk of transmission from a mother to her baby is possible and greatest for babies born to a woman with first episode genital herpes around the time of delivery.

 Neonatal herpes is potentially life threatening but occurs very rarely in the UK.

Women with recurrent herpes prior to pregnancy are at very low risk of transmitting the infection to their babies

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