The main points
- Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmissible infections.
- It is transmitted from an infected person to a sexual partner through vaginal, anal or oral sex or by genital skin-to-skin contact
- Very effective treatment (tablets) is available for the symptoms of herpes.
What is it?
Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmissible infections.
It is caused by either herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2. It is also known as the cold sore virus. Herpes type 1 usually infects both the mouth and genitals. Herpes type 2 usually infects the genitals but can infect the mouth.
How do you get it?
Anyone who is sexually active can get genital herpes. It is transmitted from an infected person to a sexual partner through vaginal, anal or oral sex or by genital skin-to-skin contact.
Most people are infected by someone who doesn’t know they have the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Most people infected with genital herpes get no symptoms, or take some time to develop symptoms.
Symptoms can include:
- redness or irritation of the skin
- itching, tingling or soreness
- difficulty or pain passing urine
- blisters or painful ulcers in the genital area
- enlarged glands in the genital area
- feeling generally unwell (muscular aches, headache and fever).
Will it come back?
Most people who have genital herpes will get a repeat episode of symptoms sometime later on. These are usually mild and infrequent. Those with herpes type 1 are less likely to get repeat episodes than those with herpes type 2.
What tests will I need?
If you have blisters, sores, irritation or soreness of your genital skin, see a doctor as soon as possible. The virus is more likely to be found on a swab test (cotton bud rolled over the affected skin) in the early stages of symptoms. A negative result doesn’t rule out infection. You may need to retest if you get symptoms again. Discuss these results with your doctor.
Testing for herpes is not a routine part of a sexual health screen. If you think you might have herpes, discuss your concerns with your doctor or nurse.
How is it treated?
Very effective treatment (tablets) is available for the symptoms of herpes. These tablets can be started once symptoms occur. They can also be taken daily to prevent symptoms. They must be prescribed by a doctor.
Currently no treatment rids the body of the virus.
Can I infect my partner?
You can pass genital herpes on to a partner during any sexual activity. Avoid sex when you have symptoms of herpes as this is the time you are most infectious to sexual partners. However, you can also pass the infection on when you have no symptoms.
Condoms decrease the risk of passing on the infection.
Taking tablets to reduce repeat episodes can decrease the chances of infecting a partner.
To reduce the risk to the baby, a caesarean section is done if there are active herpes sores on the mother’s genitals at the time of delivery. If you are pregnant and your partner has genital herpes speak to a doctor about avoiding infection during the pregnancy.
Where to get more information, support or advice
- Contact your local doctor (GP)
- Contact Family Planning Victoria's clinics
- Visit Better Health Channel
- Visit Melbourne Sexual Health Centre