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Sexually Transmitted Infections

Genital Herpes

The Genital Herpes virus remains in the body and blisters may come back from time to time.

Symptoms may disappear for long periods but you can still pass it on.

What is genital herpes and how is it caught?

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
It's passed on through contact with the skin of an infected area, by kissing, unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex or through sharing sex toys.
Sometimes, an infected area can appear quite normal but still be infectious.
Herpes can also cause problems in pregnancy.  It is important it is diagnosed so precautions can be taken if needed.

How can I avoid catching genital herpes?

If you're going to have sex, always use a condom (or a dam for oral sex with a woman) and have safer sex.
However, the virus can be on skin that's not covered by male or female condoms or dams. 
This is why its important that people who have he virus learn to recognise their symptoms (e.g. sores, or just a tingly patch of skin). They should avoid contact with others while they have symptoms.

How can I tell if I have genital herpes?

Not everyone has obvious symptoms - this is why it is important to get tested. Around 10% of the UK population has the genital herpes virus (figure from Herpes Virus Association)
If you think you or your partner may have genital herpes, you should get tested.
If you or your partner has sores, itching or tingling on the genital area you should go to your doctor or sexual health clinic. 
Some people feel unwell with flu-like symptoms when first infected or have a pain or a burning feeling when peeing or pooing.
You might then get painful red bumps or spots around the genital area. Later, they may become open sores that slowly scab over before healing.
Symptoms may never re appear but you still have the virus. Sometimes milder symptoms may reappear.
Some people may only have a tingling or itching sensation and no sores but can still pass on the virus.
Some people do not have symptoms again. 

Genital herpes testing

If you don’t have any obvious symptoms the doctor or nurse may take a blood sample or ask you for a urine (pee) sample. 
If you have sores, blisters or ulcers, you might get a diagnosis when you see the nurse or doctor.
They may use a swab to take a sample from a blister or sore. It's not painful, but could be a little uncomfortable for a moment. 
You can get tested by your GP or at your local sexual health service.

Genital herpes treatment

There's no cure for genital herpes but most people don't have serious symptoms after the first bout of infection has cleared up.
Those who do have serious symptoms may be prescribed antiviral drugs from their doctor. 
Keeping a healthy lifestyle and learning what triggers your attacks (e.g. stress, tight clothing, sunlight or using a sunbed) and learning to avoid them can also help.

Find out more about genital herpes symptoms, testing and treatment

Adults - find out more at Sexual Health Scotland.
Young People - find out more at Get The Lowdown.
Herpes Virus Association Helpline - 0845 123 2305 (local rate call).