READ MORE about genital herpes...
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is an extremely common, long-term infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus; oral (HSV-1; cold sores) and genital (HSV-2). Oral herpes can infect the genitals and genital herpes can affect the mouth.
Herpes is spread through bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact, this means you don't need to have sex with penetration to pass the infection on.
Herpes can be spread through oral, vaginal or anal intercourse. If you touch a cold sore with your finger and then perform manual sex on another person, you can infect them that way. You can also transfer oral herpes to someone’s genitals during oral sex.
Herpes is at its most contagious when the infected individual has a sore or can feel one coming on, but it can still be spread when no symptoms are present.
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Genital herpes often cause only mild or no symptoms, because the immune system controls the virus. Sometimes the virus becomes more active and causes an outbreak of blisters or ulcers on the genitals. Outbreaks are usually mild but some are uncomfortable and can be quite painful or itchy. You may also experience pain or itching when urinating, cold or flu-like symptoms, and feel very tired or run down.
Symptoms usually occur within a month of contracting the virus; however, in some people they won’t see symptoms until years later.
Herpes can show up as blisters or sores, but it can also just produce a mild rash. Whatever symptoms do appear may be on the thighs, buttock, back, fingers, and of course the genitals.
How serious is genital herpes?
Although genital herpes has no cure, it can be easily managed and does not lead to other serious health problems. It is not linked to cervical cancer, or infertility, and women with herpes can have normal pregnancies and vaginal deliveries.
How do I get tested for genital herpes?
There are no reliable tests for herpes unless you have symptoms.
If you have symptoms a doctor can confirm the presence of the herpes simplex virus with a swab test, in which a sample of the fluid from a blister, or a swab from ulcers, is taken and sent away for analysis. Find a local clinic now.
What is the treatment for genital herpes?
There is no cure for genital herpes, but the symptoms can be controlled using antiviral medicines. Daily medication can prevent recurrences of the herpes virus and reduce the risk of transmission to partners.
Other important information about genital herpes
As many as one in three adults has the virus that causes genital herpes. Around 80% of people infected with genital herpes don't know they have the virus because they have very mild symptoms or none at all.
If you are diagnosed with genital herpes, you may reconsider some aspects of sexual intimacy; for example, using non-genital forms of sexual contact when skin blisters or herpes ulcers are present. It also means considering if, when and how you tell your partner. Your health professional can help you deal with this situation, or read our page on How do I tell a partner?
Condoms don’t fully protect you against herpes, as the infected skin areas won’t always be covered, but they still reduce the risk and should be worn.
Visit the NZ Herpes Foundation site for more information and support.