Your Sexual Health give you the facts
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection which can be passed on through vaginal, anal and oral sex with an infected individual. It causes unpleasant blisters which burst to leave open red sores around your genitals, anus, buttocks or thighs. Unfortunately there is no cure for herpes and most treatment involves the management of the symptoms rather than a complete cure. In this article we look at what genital herpes is and how it can be managed once you’ve been diagnosed.
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the Herpes Simplex virus. It affects the genital area and skin around it, including the anus, buttocks and thighs. Symptoms include blisters which burst to leave painful sores. It is caused by the same family of virus that commonly affects the face and mouth in the form of cold sores. Just like cold sores, you can experience outbreaks throughout your life.
How is genital herpes treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for genital herpes. Most treatment around the virus usually focuses on improving the symptoms. If you seek treatment in time following an outbreak you may be prescribed antiviral medication which will stop symptoms getting worse than they already are. This is to be taken within 5 days of the first blisters appearing in order to be effective. You may also be offered cream which will help soothe the pain associated with the sores.
Once your first genital herpes outbreak has been treated the virus remains dormant in your system. Many people will then experience outbreaks throughout their life which can surface at any time. These outbreaks may be caused by triggers in some people, such as periods of stress or changes to diet, but they are largely unpredictable. When you suffer from an outbreak you can get treatment in the form of antiviral medication which will reduce the symptoms.
Generally speaking recurrent outbreaks aren’t as bad as the first outbreak that you experience. The symptoms tend to get milder and outbreaks will be spaced out at a greater length of time the older that you get. Some people never have any outbreaks at all, whilst others only suffer from the first initial outbreak.
Fortunately genital herpes is not life threatening for adults and you can lead a normal life following infection.
Parents with newborn babies on the other hand should always be cautious, particularly if you’ve been diagnosed in the past or you’re experiencing an outbreak. Herpes can be potentially fatal for newborn babies and genital herpes can pass on to the baby at childbirth.
How do I know if I have genital herpes?
Genital herpes has very recognisable symptoms in the form of small blisters which occur around the genitals, anus, buttocks or thighs. When the blisters pop they leave open red sores which can be painful and irritating. Other symptoms may include itching, tingling or burning around the genitals as well as pain during urination. Women may also notice abnormal discharge.
The symptoms of genital herpes can be similar to the symptoms of Syphilis and as a result the only way of knowing for certain that you have it is by getting tested.
The method of testing will depend on whether sores are still evident. In the case of lesions being present you will usually be tested using a swab. Your Sexual Health have swabs available which can diagnose herpes or syphilis using the same swab sample.
If the sores have healed you can also carry out accurate tests using a blood or urine sample. We also offer Instant Herpes tests which allow you to get accurate results whilst you wait in the clinic.
Will my genital herpes always be contagious?
Although genital herpes will always exist within your body, it is not always contagious. You are at risk of passing on herpes during an outbreak. The contagious period will usually begin when you first notice tingling around the infected area and will still be contagious until the sores have fully healed.
You can transmit genital herpes to another person in any number of ways, including: –
- Skin to skin contact with the infected area through vaginal, oral or anal sex
- Sharing sex toys
- Touching the infected area with your fingers and then touching your own skin
- If a cold sore touches your genitals
Sores do not always have to be present to pass on the condition. If you have herpes, the virus may shed from time to time without ever presenting symptoms. You can also pass on the virus just before symptoms are present.
You can prevent the spread of genital herpes by wearing a condom, but this is only effective if the condom covers the affected area.