Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two slightly different types of the virus, both of which can affect the genitals. One of the types is exactly the same virus that causes cold sores around the mouth.
Genital herpes causes painful blisters and sores on and around the genitals.
The herpes virus (HSV) is highly contagious and it can be easily passed from person to person by close, direct contact including kissing, vaginal and anal sex (genital contact), oral sex (mouth to genital contact) and sharing sex toys.
Many people who have and pass on the virus may not even know they have herpes as it is possible to carry the virus without having any symptoms. Sometimes you can catch herpes when your sexual partner has no visible sores or symptoms. This is because the virus can become active on the skin without causing any visible blisters or sores.
Many people with the herpes virus do not experience any symptoms when they are first infected and, as a result, do not know that they have it.
If you do experience symptoms it usually takes between two and twelve days after contact with the virus for the first symptoms of genital herpes to appear. Although sometimes symptoms may not appear until months, or sometimes years, after you have been infected.
Symptoms consist of multiple spots or red bumps around the genital area. These can be very painful. In time, these swellings can break open and form sores or ulcers which gradually crust over, forming new skin as they heal.
Just like with cold sores, genital herpes can come back after the first episode.
If you have visible blisters, the doctor or nurse will probably take a swab for testing and may also take a blood sample.
When someone gets symptoms of genital herpes for the first time, treatment usually involves antiviral tablet to help speed up the healing process and sometimes painkillers.
Sometimes after the first time the genital herpes can come back (recur), just like cold sores can come back.
Sometimes people will need to take antiviral medication every day for 6 months to a year to reduce the number of recurrences. Other people who get recurrent episodes may just take the antiviral medication when they get symptoms. Your doctor will explain what may be the best option for you. If you start taking the medication as soon as an outbreak begins, you may shorten or even stop the episode.