Genital Herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). It can be passed on from one person to another through penetrative sex –oral, vaginal and anal - as well as skin-to-skin contact. HSV is a long- term condition which can be treated but not cured.
How is genital herpes passed on?
The virus is highly contagious and spreads from one person through skin-to-skin contact, such as during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Wherever HSV is on the surface of your skin it can be passed onto a partner.
It is passed on during sexual contact and is most likely to be passed on before, during and immediately after an outbreak. It is easier to catch when the infected person has blisters or sores. However, it can be caught at any time, even when someone has no symptoms at all.
It can be passed on from one person to another through:
- Unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex.
- Your genitals coming into contact with your partners.
- If you receive oral sex from someone who has a cold sore or is about to get one.
- Skin-to-skin contact during sex if the virus is active on the skin outside the area protected by a condom.
- Sharing sex toys without washing them or covering them with a condom with each use.
- If a person who has whitlows (herpes on the hand) touches a partner’s vaginal, genital or anal area.
Some ways to avoid the infection include:
Male condoms and femidoms (female condoms) reduce the risk of getting or passing on herpes if they cover the affected area.
Wash hands after touching blisters, especially before handing contact lenses, because herpes can cause an eye infection.
How do I know if I have genital herpes?
Many people who have the herpes virus may not even realise because they may not get any visible signs or symptoms. If you do get symptoms they may include the following:
- Small fluid-filled blisters that burst to leave red open sores around your genitals, anus, thighs and buttocks.
- Pain when you pass urine –due to urine passing over sores.
- A general feeling of being unwell, with aches, pains and flu-like symptoms.
- Stinging, tingling or itching in the genital or anal area.
- May have vaginal or urethral discharge.
The symptoms may last up to 20 days.
Although the initial symptoms of genital herpes clear up, the virus remains dormant in a nearby nerve. The virus can reactivate from time to time, causing recurrent outbreaks.
If you are showing symptoms visit your local sexual health clinic as soon as possible.
How can genital herpes be treated?
The herpes virus stays in your body for life but antiviral tablets stop blisters o make them heal quicker, and they can be used long-term to prevent symptoms. If blisters appear, pain killing creams and bathing in salt water may help.
Should I test for genital herpes?
You can only have a check-up for herpes when you have signs and symptoms. If you think you have genital herpes for the first time you should visit your local sexual health clinic as soon as possible.
The doctor or nurse will look at the affected area and take a swab of fluid from the blisters. The sample will then be sent to be tested for HSV and you will normally get the results back in one to two weeks.
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