Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) – the same type of virus that causes cold sores.
As many as 1 in 8 sexually active Australian adults has genital herpes.
Genital herpes can cause outbreaks of blisters or sores on the genitals and anus. Once infected, you can continue to have recurrent episodes of symptoms throughout your life.
There are 2 types of HSV, both viruses can affect either the lips, mouth, genital or anal areas, however:
- HSV1 commonly causes cold sores on the lips or face.
- HSV2 causes most genital herpes.
It is most easily spread when there are blisters or sores, but can still be passed even if a person has no current blisters or sores or other symptoms.
What if I have genital herpes?
If you think you have genital herpes, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis with testing and start treatment.
If you have genital herpes, it is important to always use condoms and dental dams when having sex, even when you have no symptoms. A dental dam is a square of thin latex that can be placed over the vulva or anal area during oral sex. It is safest to avoid sex when you have blisters, sores or symptoms.
Anti-viral medication may help to prevent transmission. Talk to your doctor about this in more detail.
It is also important to tell your sexual partners that you have genital herpes. Your doctor can help you decide who to tell and how to tell them.
What if I’m pregnant?
It's important to tell your obstetrician that you or a partner have had genital herpes, so that they can monitor you for symptoms and manage your pregnancy safely. There is a risk you can pass the virus on to your baby if you have a vaginal delivery during a first attack of genital herpes. If this happens you may be recommended to have a caesarean delivery.
To learn more about genital herpes contact your doctor, sexual health clinic or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
You can also visit Family Planning NSW.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your genital herpes, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: May 2017