What is it?

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which is the same virus that causes cold sores.

How do I get it?

The herpes virus is transmitted through the body through small cracks in the skin or lining of the mouth, the tube where the urine comes out (urethra), under the foreskin or the vagina.

Having unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex, sharing sex toys and skin-to-skin contact can all cause the transmission of herpes.

Some people develop symptoms of HSV a few days after coming into contact with the virus. Small, painful blisters or sores usually develop, which may cause itching or tingling, or make it painful to urinate. Symptoms can also include flu-like symptoms. 

You may also be able to pass on the virus even if you do not have any symptoms. 

After you've been infected, the virus remains dormant (inactive) most of the time. However, certain triggers can reactivate the virus, causing the blisters to develop again, although they're usually smaller and less painful.

It is best to test for HSV by taking a swab of blister/ulcer to detect the virus.

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

  • use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex – but herpes can still be passed on if the condom does not cover the infected area

  • avoid vaginal, anal or oral sex if you or your partner has blisters or sores

  • do not share sex toys – if you do, wash them and put a condom on them