Herpes (HSV)

updated 2 weeks ago in HIV and STIs

What is herpes?

Herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which can affect anyone. There are two types:

  • Type 1 (HSV-1) usually causes cold sores in or around the mouth, though it can also cause sores on your genitals
  • Type 2 (HSV-2) usually causes sores on or around your penis, arse, vagina or front hole

How do you get herpes?

Herpes can spread through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has herpes. This can include touching, kissing, oral sex, vaginal or front hole sex, or anal sex.

It is easier for the virus to spread when there are herpes sores or blisters present. Herpes can be infectious even when there are no symptoms.

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

Some guys will have no symptoms at all. An estimated one in eight people has HSV-2 (genital herpes) and seven out of ten have HSV-1, but most are unaware because they’ve never had symptoms.

Symptoms can appear about a week after exposure. These may include:

  • flu-like symptoms, including aches and fever
  • tingling or itching on the skin around your mouth, penis, balls, arse, vagina or front hole, which develops into painful sores or blisters
  • small cracks in the skin
  • a rash or inflamed, red skin
  • pain or swelling around your arse, vagina or front hole
  • unusual fluid (discharge) from your penis, arse, vagina or front hole
  • swollen glands

Herpes sores and symptoms usually heal after one or two weeks.

How do I get tested for herpes?

A herpes test involves your doctor performing a physical examination and taking a swab of a sore or blister.

Blood tests for herpes are not recommended as part of a routine sexual health test.

Talk to your doctor about the most suitable test for you.

How is herpes treated?

There is no medical cure for herpes. Once you have herpes, the virus will remain in your body but will not always cause symptoms. You can manage these symptoms with antiviral medication. This can help reduce the frequency of outbreaks and the risk of passing it on to other people.

You can help reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks by managing your stress levels, getting adequate sleep and maintaining a healthy diet. Many guys find they have fewer outbreaks over time.

What are the best ways to prevent herpes?

To help reduce your risk of herpes, you can:

  • use condoms during sex
  • use condoms on sex toys
  • avoid skin-to-skin contact with anyone who has a visible sore or blister