Genital Herpes

Genital herpes


Genital herpes is caused by a virus called Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) which is the same family of viruses that cause cold sores. It is transmitted through sexual contact including unprotected oral sex. Some people carry the infection without any symptoms however others may develop recurrent symptoms. The first time you experience herpes we recommend treatment as soon as possible to speed up healing. Otherwise treatment for herpes is based on your symptoms.



Genital herpes causes single or multiple small blisters or sores which can be painful. Other symptoms may include burning when you pass urine or changes in vaginal discharge.



Testing for herpes is dependent on your symptoms and usually involves a swab.



Managing Herpes recurrence (repeat episode)

You don’t need to attend clinic if you are experiencing symptoms you believe are a recurrence of herpes.  Learning to self-care is an important part in managing this common condition. 


Did you know?

  • Most recurrences are far milder than the first episode
  • Recurrences usually last a much shorter period of time than the first episode
  • Antiviral medication does not speed up healing for the majority of recurrent episodes, therefore is not usually required or helpful. 


What if I am experiencing discomfort?

There are steps you can take to reduce pain and help healing

  • Some people find that using over-the-counter pain relief such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen can help to reduce discomfort.
  • Avoid scratching or picking at blisters as this may cause infection and slow healing.
  • Avoid using soaps or shower gels on affected areas.  Leave sore skin to alone as much as possible in order for it to heal naturally.
  • Wearing loose fitting underwear made from natural fabrics such as cotton or bamboo. 


What are the risks of passing on infection?

Having blisters or sores means that herpes can be passed onto other people more easily.  We recommend you avoid sexual contact if you have blisters or sores; this includes oral, vaginal or anal sex; but for many, sexual contact just feels too uncomfortable or painful in the first place.  Some people may experience signs that a recurrence is occurring before any spots of blistering occurs.  These signs (sometimes referred to as prodrome symptoms) can include tingling, pain or burning; experiencing these can mean that transmission is more likely to occur during sexual contact.

Using condoms with future partners will reduce the risks of herpes transmission, in addition to protecting you from acquiring other STIs


Is there anything I can do to reduce the likelihood of getting further episodes?

Taking care of your physical and emotional health can lessen the chances of further outbreaks

  • Getting plenty of sleep, eating a balanced diet and keeping stress levels low, maintains a healthy immune system.
  • Avoid smoking; this has been shown to increase risks of outbreaks
  • Avoid UV light on the parts of your body where blisters appear; exposure through sunbathing or use of sunbeds has been shown to increase risks of recurrences


What if I’m still feeling anxious or scared?

Recurrences rarely last beyond 7-10 days.  Your symptoms will resolve and life will return to normal shortly.  Try not to stress or dwell on symptoms and focus on the positives in your life and those around you.  If you want more information and support, we recommend visiting

If your symptoms have not resolved after a period of two weeks, or you are experiencing frequent recurrences, please contact 01903 285 199 for further assessment.

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Sexual Health West Sussex