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Genital herpes

Genital herpes is transmitted when an infected part of one body touches an uninfected part of another body. This can be through different kinds of sexual contact.
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These include:

  • having oral sex with somebody who has a cold sore
  • touching genital or mouth sores and then touching another part of the body
  • vaginal or anal sex.

A pregnant woman can also pass on herpes to their baby when giving birth. It’s important to remember genital herpes can be transmitted before a sore appears too. You can’t be sure somebody is outbreak-free by looking closely.

How can I tell if I have genital herpes? Does it hurt?

The first sign of genital herpes is an itchy or tingling feeling. Next, blisters will appear in small clusters on the outside or inside of your vagina, penis, anus or buttocks.

When the blisters break they turn into sores, which can be itchy and painful. The sore forms a scab, which heals itself.

The first time you have an outbreak of herpes will probably be the worst. You might feel as though you have the flu for a few weeks; and feel headachy, tired and unwell.

Most people with the infection get genital herpes more than once, but usually the first outbreak is the worst, and outbreaks after that are not as bad.

If you have genital herpes it’s important to eat well and exercise, because you’re more likely to have an outbreak if you’re stressed out, tired, in the sun a lot, or not well.

Also, girls are more likely to have an outbreak if they have their period or are pregnant.

How can I avoid getting genital herpes?

Some people may not know they have herpes and can pass it on as a result. Using condoms when you have sex will lower the risk, but it doesn’t make it completely safe.

Herpes can also affect parts of the skin not covered by condoms.

Herpes is most contagious when one person with the infection has sores, but it can be transmitted when no sores are visible. This is called ‘shedding’, and is most likely to happen in the first year after a person gets herpes for the first time.

Some points to remember

  • Avoid oral sex when you or your partner has a cold sore around the mouth.
  • If you or your partner has genital sores, or can feel the tingling that indicates an outbreak is coming, avoid having sex until the sores have healed.

How do I get tested for herpes?

Herpes can only be diagnosed when you have an active sore. This means going to the doctor within three days of finding a sore, because it’s difficult to diagnose once they dry up.

To find out where you can go for a sexual health check, see Think Contraception for a list of clinics in Ireland where you can talk to a sexual health nurse. Talking to the nurse is confidential and anonymous.

Is there a cure for genital herpes?

No, currently there’s no cure for the genital herpes virus, but a doctor can help you manage the symptoms and outbreaks with medication.

During an outbreak it can help to keep the area clean and dry, treat pain with aspirin, and take warm baths. It’s important to look after yourself, know the signs of an outbreak and seek treatment for the symptoms.

Will it go away if I ignore it?

Each outbreak of sores will heal by themselves eventually, but the virus will stay in your body.

If I go to a clinic will they tell my parents?

According to the law you can request and receive medical care for yourself once you’re 16-years-old. At the sexual health clinic the information you give the staff is completely confidential.

It can’t be shared with your parents or people you know, unless the law requires staff to do so.

An example of this would be if health staff thought you were at risk of serious harm. In this case the clinic is required to report this to the duty social worker from the Health Service Executive (HSE). Another example might be if your files were required in a court case.

Doctors are also required to report the number of cases of genital herpes they diagnose to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre so they can monitor the disease in Ireland. Names are not passed on.

This article was last reviewed on 03 May 2017

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