It’s an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is the virus that causes cold sores to develop around the mouth area.
Whenever HSV is present on the surface of your skin, it can be passed onto a partner. The virus passes easily through the moist skin which lines your genitals, mouth, and anus. So you can get it through unprotected vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex as well as touching of the genitals. It can’t usually be passed on by towels, cutlery or cups because the virus dies very quickly when it is away from your skin.
You might not get symptoms of genital herpes for years after you've been exposed to HSV. If they do show up it will be four to seven days after you have been exposed to the virus.
You might notice:
- painful red blisters, which soon burst to leave ulcers on your external genital area, rectum, thighs, and buttocks
- blisters and ulceration on the cervix and vaginal discharge, pain when you pass urine, fever
- generally feeling unwell
The doctor or nurse will take a swab, a sample of fluid from a blister and send it to a laboratory to be tested for HSV.
If you have genital herpes once, it’s likely to come back again, possibly years later. Although there is no cure for genital herpes, it can be treated with anti-viral tablets, which you will need to take five times a day, for five days.