While the virus is highly contagious, most people who have it don't get the cold sores or blisters.
If you’ve been infected with genital herpes, you may find blisters around your penis, vagina, or anus. Once the blister pops, you’ll have a sore in this area. Blisters can come back every few weeks or months.
Once you're infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2, you'll be infected with the virus for life. However, if you're one of the few people who get blisters/cold sores, they seem to become less frequent over time.
There are no cures for genital herpes, only ways to suppress the blisters/cold sores.
How do you get genital herpes?
You can catch genital herpes by having unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex. You can get it even if you’ve had protected sex because condoms may not cover all the areas where there are blisters. Also, you can get genital herpes from a person who’s got no blisters or sores but who’s got a herpes simplex virus infection.
How can you protect yourself from genital herpes?
You can reduce your risk of getting genital herpes by:
1. Always using condoms.
Condoms can lower your risk of getting or spreading genital herpes. However, the virus can also infect your mouth and around your lips. So if you’re having oral sex check to see if the person has a cold sore, and use a condom or dental dam to protect your genitals. Ideally, it’s best to wait until the outbreak is over before having oral sex again.
2. If you’re having a herpes outbreak, wait until it’s over to have sex. Otherwise, you’re more likely to spread the virus to your partner.
What are the signs that you've got genital herpes?
Most people infected with the herpes simplex virus don’t have any signs of genital herpes.
If you’ve got symptoms of genital herpes, they’re the same in women and men. The ‘cold sores’ or blisters come in a pattern. There’s the first outbreak when you first see signs of genital herpes infection, followed by recurring outbreaks.
First signs of genital herpes infection
Within the first one to three weeks after being infected with herpes simplex virus, you’ll get flu-like symptoms. These symptoms include fever, tiredness, headache, swollen glands, and aches and pains in your lower back.
You’ll also get ‘cold sores’ or blisters in your genital area, around your anus, or on your buttocks or the tops of your thighs. Where you get the blisters depends on how you’ve had sex.
- May feel tingly, itchy, or even stinging to touch
- May be small, fluid-filled
- Usually pop within a day or two to leave small red sores
- May cause pain when you urinate because after they pop, they’ll leave open sores
- May last between two to four weeks
In general, your first herpes outbreak is usually the most painful. The symptoms generally clear up within two to four weeks. Some people have only one attack, while others may have several more outbreaks. With each outbreak, the symptoms of genital herpes usually become less painful.
Recurring genital herpes outbreaks can include:
- Painful, stinging blisters filled with fluid
- Fewer and smaller blisters/sores
- Watery discharge
- Pain when you urinate
If you’ve got recurring genital herpes outbreaks, they generally tend to be shorter, lasting between three to five days. Often, you’ll find you’ve got fewer and smaller sores.
Blisters/sores tend to come back when you’re tired or stressed. They may also come back when you’ve got a cold or are having your period.
Over time, you’ll probably find that you’ll have fewer outbreaks. However, this doesn’t mean you’re not infected with the herpes simplex virus. You’re still infected. It just means your body is able to clear up the infection more quickly.
How do you get tested for genital herpes?
Your doctor will examine you and take a sample from the sore and test it for genital herpes in a lab.
Blood can also be tested for the herpes simplex virus, which causes genital herpes. However, if you test positive for the herpes simplex virus, it doesn't necessarily mean you have genital herpes. This is why the most effective method to test for genital herpes is to test the fluid in the sore when you’re having an outbreak.
How do you get rid of genital herpes?
There is no cure for genital herpes. There are only ways to speed up the healing process or relieve the discomfort caused by the blisters/sores.
You can relieve pain/ discomfort caused by genital herpes by:
- Applying an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the sores for 15-20 minutes at a time
- Putting cold, wet tea bags on the sores
- Taking cool showers
- Applying local anaesthetic ointment
- Taking warm salt-water baths
- Wearing loose fitting clothes
You can speed up the healing process of genital herpes by:
Taking the antiviral medicines acyclovir, famiciclovir, or valaciclovir.
You can only get these medications if they've been prescribed by your doctor. These medications shorten the duration of genital herpes' outbreaks.
Using over-the-counter cold sore treatments from a chemist or drugstore will not work on genital herpes.