Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus, HSV.  This is the same virus that causes cold sores around the mouth.  It causes painful blisters and ulcers in the genital area. 

Genital HSV can be transmitted through skin to skin contact during oral, anal or vaginal sex.  It is not transmitted thorough sharing towels, cups, toilet seats or swimming pools.


Not everyone who has HSV infection will get symptoms and so many people do not know that they are infected. 

One third of people with genital HSV will develop symptoms at the time of infection.  In other people the virus can lie dormant for weeks, months or years before any symptoms appear.  

The symptoms of genital herpes can be mild or more severe and may include:

  • Feeling generally unwell with flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue and pain down the legs
  • Burning or itching in the skin followed by the appearance of small blisters. These burst within a few days leaving ulcers which can be very painful
  • Pain when passing urine as the urine touches the ulcers

Some people will have recurrent outbreaks of symptoms.  These are usually less severe than a first outbreak.


If you have symptoms of genital HSV you can:

  • contact us via phone 0300 123 5474, or

If you have visible blisters or ulcers a swab test can be taken to confirm a diagnosis of HSV.


Antiviral medications can be used to reduce symptoms, but they do not clear the virus from the body.

Some people who have frequent recurrences (more than six per year) may benefit from suppressive antiviral medication if their symptoms are severe or causing distress. 

The topical treatments that you can buy in the pharmacy for facial cold sores are not effective for managing genital HSV.


Using condoms reduces the risk of transmission of genital herpes.

Genital herpes can be transmitted even when no blisters or ulcers are present but the risk of transmission is greatest if you have symptoms.  Avoid having sex if you have genital ulcers or blisters or cold sores around your mouth.


If you have previously been diagnosed with genital HSV then you should let your midwife know and make an appointment to come and see one of our doctors in clinic.  We will usually offer you some antiviral medication to take near the end of your pregnancy to make sure you don’t have any symptoms at the time of delivery.

If you are pregnant and experiencing symptoms of genital HSV for the first time it is important that you come to see us as soon as possible.  Please call us on 0300 1235474 or come to one of our walk in and wait clinics.

More information


NHS Choices - genital herpes

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