Everything you need to know about genital herpes

This blog is written by our clinicians and aims to keep patients informed with up to date information on medical conditions. The editor of the blog is Dr Cristina Romete.

There is a lot of misinformation and scaremongering out there when it comes to genital herpes. There also is too little emphasis on the importance of this sexually transmitted infection.

Genital herpes is important because not only is it one of the more uncomfortable sexually transmitted infections, causing genital pain and difficulty urinating, but also it is not completely avoidable by using condoms, so it is important for everyone to have some awareness and understanding of it.

 

What is herpes?

Herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus, of which there are two types we commonly talk about.

  • Type 1 has always been referred to as the one that causes oral herpes, commonly known as a cold-sore.
  • Type 2 was always referred to as the sexually transmitted one. The type that causes genital herpes.

Over the last few decades there has been a shift away from this way of thinking however as increasingly we are finding people with genital herpes that have Type 1, most likely due to oral sex.

 

How is genital herpes diagnosed?

At ROC we are able to diagnose herpes firstly by it’s characteristic appearance and symptoms (painful fluid filled blisters around the genital region) and secondly using the following lab investigations:

  • PCR swab of the fluid in a blister. This is sent to the lab and we can then determine what type of herpes it is, whether Type 1 or 2.
  • Urine PCR. As part of our routine sexual health screening we can also test for herpes from a simple urine sample.
  • Blood tests. There are 2 blood tests available. One looks at whether you have a current infection, the other can look back at whether you have been infected in the past.

 

Can herpes be treated?

Once infected with the herpes virus, if you contact a healthcare professional within 3 days of the start of your symptoms, you may be able to be prescribed some antiviral medication which will help clear the infection. The infection will often clear by itself without medication too.

The Herpes Simplex Virus then lies dormant inside your nervous system and you can have a flare up of herpes again, especially at times you may be run-down, unwell or stressed.

When these recurrences happen, some prefer to have antiviral medication to hand so that it can be treated quickly. If you have genital herpes it is worth discussing this option with your doctor.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do condoms prevent the spread of herpes?

Sadly, not entirely. Herpes is also spread by skin contact and if the lesions are at the base of the penis or around the perineum in females, just the rubbing of skin against that region will transmit the virus.

Condoms are still important to use as they prevent other infections from being transmitted and also there is evidence to show that people with herpes are more likely to catch HIV than people without herpes.

 

  • Will I never be able to have unprotected sex again?

Herpes is incredibly common and studies have shown around 90% of people will for example be positive for Type 1 by the time they turn 50, with around 1 in 6 young people being positive for Type 2. Most people don’t have symptoms despite the infection.

If you are in a long term mutually monogamous relationship, it is likely your partner will either already have the virus and not show symptoms or you will need to make sure that you do not have sexual intercourse on those days where you have symptoms/blisters.

If you are not in a mutually monogamous relationship, using a condom at all times is recommended as well as abstaining from sexual intercourse when symptomatic.

 

Management of herpes at ROC Private Clinic

If you are concerned about herpes or any other sexual health conditions, contact us and speak to one of our GPs about it further. We can discuss testing options, provide you with anti-viral medication and carry out a full sexual health screen too if needed.

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