What is it?
Genital herpes is a virus which can infect the skin and cause painful blisters on the genitals and surrounding areas.
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with skin (mouth or genital) and is most infectious from the first signs of burning/tingling until the skin has completely returned to normal.
Four out of five adults carry the herpes virus but most are unaware that they’re infected because they have no symptoms.
How can I prevent it?
Condoms can help, but they are not a guarantee of complete protection because the virus is also shed from areas not covered by the condom, (including the mouth).Dental dams for rimming can offer some additional protection.
If you have herpes, it never leaves the body. Keep a record of any further outbreaks as there may be a pattern or trigger factors that you can try to avoid e.g. you’re run down, under stress or when the skin gets irritated due to friction or tight clothing. Sunlight and sunbeds may also induce an outbreak.
How do I know if I have herpes?
Most people have mild or no symptoms. Symptoms include blisters on the penis or anal area. They can also be inside the urethra and rectum.
The first outbreak can last a few weeks and often feels like flu. If you get your first episode of herpes in the anal/rectal area, this can cause quite severe discomfort, diarrhoea and an anal discharge. Sometimes there are no further outbreaks but recurrences can happen, these result in fewer blisters/ sores which are less painful and take fewer days to heal. For very many people, the frequency of recurrences declines with time.
Genital herpes can be diagnosed more easily while the infection is active with a swab taken from the affected areas of skin.
Is there treatment?
Although there is no drug to kill the virus, the symptoms can usually be well controlled using antiviral prescription medicine.
During an outbreak, keep the affected area as cool and dry as possible. Bathe the area in tepid salty water or take a cool shower. If it’s practical, leave the sores exposed to dry out. If you have sores around the anus, make sure you keep your stools soft by either taking plenty of dietary fibre and fluids or using a stool softener such as lactulose. Protect the area with a little vaseline before going to the toilet – and wash afterwards.