Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It can affect the mouth and nose (known as cold sores) or the genital and anal area, fingers or hands.

  • The virus is highly contagious.
  • It is passed on by having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex (sex without using a condom).
  • It can also be caught through sharing sex toys or direct skin to skin genital contact.


Most people with the herpes simplex virus (HSV) don't experience any symptoms of genital herpes when first infected. Many people don't know they have the condition.

Symptoms may include:

  • blisters on or in the vagina, cervix, urethra, rectum, anus or penis
  • tingling or itching feeling in the affected area
  • vaginal discharge in women
  • pain when you pass urine
  • a general feeling of being unwell, with aches, pains and flu-like symptoms

Getting tested

A swab is used to collect a sample of fluid from a blister. A swab is a small piece of absorbent material, such as gauze or cotton, which is attached to the end of a stick or wire.

The sample is sent to a laboratory to be tested for the herpes simplex virus (HSV). You may also be screened for other STIs at the same time.

Even if your swab result comes back negative for HSV, you may still have genital herpes and a diagnosis will only be confirmed by any recurrent outbreaks.

Genital herpes can be diagnosed more easily and accurately when the infection is still active, so you should seek medical attention as soon as you develop symptoms.

How is genital herpes treated?

Treatment for genital herpes will depend on whether you have the infection for the first time or your symptoms keep coming back.

  • The virus always remains in the body and no treatment can remove it completely.
  • You may be prescribed antiviral tablets.
  • If the infection reoccurs, symptoms are usually milder.
  • If left untreated, the symptoms may last about two to three weeks.

Protecting myself and others

  • Wear a condom when having vaginal, anal or oral sex.
  • Avoid having sex (vaginal, anal and oral) if you have genital herpes until any blisters or ulcers (open sores) around your genital area have cleared up.
  • Avoid kissing your partner if either of you have a cold sore around your mouth.
  • Avoid using sex toys.

Do you have symptoms or want to be tested?

If you have symptoms you should get yourself tested to avoid infection developing and from transferring it to someone else.

Call 0300 008 5522 to book an appointment at one of our clinics.

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