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What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a very contagious sexually transmitted infection (commonly referred to as an STI). Its symptoms manifest as:

  • Small blisters around the genitals and anus
  • Burning, itching or tingling of the genitals
  • Pain when passing urine
  • Vaginal discharge in women

These symptoms are mild in most cases, although they can occasionally be quite painful.

What causes genital herpes?

The genital herpes infection is passed on through vaginal, oral and anal sex. The virus that causes genital herpes is called ‘herpes simplex’ (HSV). It comes in two different variants known as HSV-1 and HSV-2.

The virus can enter the body through moist, mucus membranes (a moist, soft lining) of the mouth, vagina, urethra, foreskin or rectum.

Following an outbreak, HSV can become dormant and inactive but remains in the body. It is possible to experience a recurrent outbreak, although these are usually milder than the first episode and may not always require treatment.

When should I seek help for genital herpes?

The management of genital herpes is most effective when started within 5 days of the initial outbreak.

A doctor would typically identify the infection by looking at the affected skin. However, there is a test to confirm if you’ve got genital herpes. It involves swabbing the fluid from an infected blister. You can ask for the test as soon as you notice signs or experience symptoms associated with genital herpes.

Your GP is most likely to refer you to a genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic. They’ll be able to carry out any tests that may be required to confirm the diagnosis and offer initial treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with genital herpes, our Online Doctor service provides a confidential GP consultation and can lead to the prescription of an antiviral medicine to shorten the duration and severity of symptoms during an outbreak. We can also offer a local anaesthetic ointment to ease the pain and irritation.

If you suspect a medical emergency, call 999 immediately.

What treatments are available for genital herpes?

There is currently no known treatment which can completely cure genital herpes. However there are treatments that can relieve the pain it can cause and shorten the duration of symptoms.

If you’re diagnosed with genital herpes then it can help to keep the infected area clean with salt water to help prevent the blisters from becoming infected. You can apply an ice pack wrapped in a flannel to soothe pain in the infected area. You may also want to apply a petroleum-based jelly such as vaseline or a painkilling cream to reduce the pain when you pass water.

A prescription antiviral medicine such as Aciclovir can stop the symptoms of genital herpes from getting worse. In order to be effective, it needs to be taken within 5 days of symptoms appearing. If symptoms persist for more than 5 days, you should contact your GP or a sexual health clinic.

The pain and itching of genital herpes can also be relieved with anaesthetic creams such as Lidocaine Ointment, on prescription, or Lanacane Original Cream, which can be purchased without prescription from our sister company, ChemistDirect.co.uk.

The Online Doctor service

Our Online Doctor service offers treatments for a range of conditions via an online consultation with a GP. It’s convenient, confidential and can lead to a prescription for Aciclovir tablets to help suppress a herpes outbreak.