What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Herpes blisters (sores) may show up 2 to 21 days after contact with an infected person. One or more blisters appear anywhere in the genital area (vagina, vaginal lips, cervix, penis, buttocks, etc.) or on any other part of the body that was exposed to the virus. Blisters break after a few days, then crust over and heal, normally within 1 to 2 weeks. This is sometimes called “having an outbreak”. Some people have the herpes virus without having any signs of sores.
The first outbreak is usually the worst. Blisters last up to 2 weeks or longer, along with other symptoms such as fever, joint pain, flu-like symptoms, painful urination, itching, and tingling. Enlarged and tender glands in the groin may also be present.
Repeat outbreaks are common, especially during the first year after infection. Repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. A few days before the blisters appear, some people notice burning, tingling, or redness in the outbreak area. Although the infection can stay in the body the rest of your life, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years.
How is genital herpes spread?
The herpes virus is passed from person-to-person during sex (oral, vaginal or anal) or during skin contact. It is possible to have and spread the herpes virus even though there are no sores.
The virus causing cold sores on the mouth may be spread to the genital area during oral sex.
Do not touch the sores or the fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another part of your body. If you touch the sores wash your hands thoroughly to avoid spreading the infection.
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
Your health care provider will examine the sores. A swab may taken from the sore(s) to send for testing. The testing is not reliable if the blisters have crusted or healed. See your health care provider as soon as possible if you think you may have herpes sores.
Our Sexual Health Clinics offer free, confidential testing and counselling services.
How is genital herpes treated?
There is no cure for herpes, but certain medications can be given to help lessen symptoms and shorten outbreaks. Some medications can be taken daily which will reduce the chance of spreading infection to your partner.
How is genital herpes prevented?
If you are sexually active use a condom every time you have sex. Limit the number of sexual partners you have. Find out more about safer sex practices. Talk to your partner(s) about their STI status.
If you are pregnant and have herpes make sure to tell your health care provider. Toward the end of your pregnancy you may be offered medicines to reduce the risk of having any symptoms and passing the disease to the baby at the time of delivery.