Herpes is a viral infection which is passed on through skin to skin contact, including anal, vaginal, and oral sex. Herpes can be treated but cannot be cured.

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Who is Affected by Herpes?

Anyone can be infected with herpes, regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Herpes is more serious in people who are immunocompromised, such as if they have HIV.

How is it Transmitted?

Herpes is be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with the virus. This includes hand to genital contact, anal, oral, and vaginal sex, and sharing sex toys. People who are infected with Herpes are only infectious some of the time. It is easier to catch herpes from somebody around the times when they have symptoms, but it can also be passed on when people do not have visible sores.

Condoms, dental dams and fisting and fingering gloves can reduce risk, but if they do not cover the affected area, it is still possible for herpes to be passed on. If you are sharing sex toys you should cover them with a condom and change the condom between partners and holes. You should wash your hands after touching warts, especially before using contact lenses, because herpes can infect the eyes.

What are the Symptoms?

Many people who are infected with herpes have no symptoms. If there are symptoms, these may include:

  • Small blisters filled with liquid, which burst leaving red sores around the genitals, anus, thighs, and buttocks (bum)
  • Pain when peeing, pooing or having sex (because sores are being irritated)
  • Feeling unwell, such as aches and pains, and flu-like symptoms
  • Painful or itchy genitals

These symptoms will go away over time, but this does not mean the herpes has gone away. The virus remains in the body and can reactivate, causing future outbreaks. If you have symptoms you should go to your local sexual health clinic as soon as possible as they can only test for herpes while you have symptoms.

Testing and Treatment

Sexual health clinics will only test for herpes if you currently have symptoms, as the test involves a swab of the affected area.

The doctor or nurse will look at the affected area and take a swab of fluid from the blisters. The sample will then be sent to be tested for the herpes virus and you will get the results in one to two weeks.

The herpes virus stays in your body forever, but if you do have new outbreaks, they can be treated. Antiviral tablets will help blisters heal quicker, and if you have frequent outbreaks antivirals can be used long term to prevent symptoms. Painkillers and salt water baths can help soothe current symptoms.