The symptoms of genital herpes for the first time include:
- small blisters that burst to leave red, open sores around your genitals, rectum (back passage), thighs and buttocks
- blisters and ulcers on the cervix (lower part of the womb) in women
- vaginal discharge in women
- pain when you pass urine
- a general feeling of being unwell, with aches, pains and flu-like symptoms
These symptoms may last up to 20 days. However, the sores will eventually scab and heal without scarring. Many people will have no symptoms of the virus, so if you have had unprotected sex please get tested.
If you think you have genital herpes you should get tested at the Integrated Sexual Health Service.
When being tested for genital herpes you may be asked:
- whether you have experienced similar symptoms before
- whether you have ever had a cold sore, which are also caused by the herpes simplex virus
- whether you have ever had an Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)
- about your history of sexual partners
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. The sample will be sent to a laboratory to be tested for gential herpes, you may also be screened for other STIs.
Treating Genital Herpes
You will need to take a course of aciclovir for at least five days, or longer if you still have new blisters and open sores forming on your genital area.
You should visit your GP if you have been diagnosed with genital herpes before and are experiencing a recurrent outbreak.
If the symptoms are mild, your GP may suggest one of the following to help ease your symptoms without the need for treatment.
- Keep the affected area clean using either plain or salt water. This will help prevent blisters or ulcers from becoming infected and may help them to heal quicker. It will also stop affected areas from sticking together.
- Apply an ice pack wrapped in a flannel, or cold, wet, tea bags on the sores to help soothe pain and speed up the healing process. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
- Drink plenty of fluids to dilute your urine. This will make passing urine less painful. Passing urine while sitting in a bath or while pouring water over your genitals may also help.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing because it may irritate the blisters and ulcers.
If your symptoms are more severe, you may be prescribed antiviral tablets (aciclovir), which you will need to take for five days.
Preventing genital herpes
- If you have genital herpes, avoid having sex (vaginal, anal and oral) until any blisters or ulcers (open sores) around your genitals have cleared as they are highly contagious, even from the first tingle or itch.
- Avoid sharing sex toys as they can pass on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), make sure you wash them and cover with a condom.
- You shouldn't kiss your partner if either of you have a cold sore around your mouth.
- Always use a condom while having sex (vaginal, anal and oral), even after your symptoms have gone. This is particularly important when having sex with new partners.
- While using a condom may help prevent genital herpes from spreading, the condom only covers the penis. If the virus is present on or around your anus (the opening where solid waste leaves the body), it can still be passed on through sexual contact.
Testing your partner
If you have genital herpes, and your partner experiences symptoms, they should be encouraged to get tested for the condition. If you do not want to tell your partner the Integrated Sexual Health Service will do this for you.
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