Introduction 

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It causes painful blisters on the genitals and the surrounding areas.

As genital herpes can be passed to others through intimate sexual contact, it's often referred to as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

HSV can affect any mucous membrane (moist lining), such as those found in the mouth (cold sores).

Genital herpes is a chronic (long-term) condition. The virus remains in your body and can become active again. The average rate of recurrence is four to five times in the first two years after being infected. However, over time, it tends to becomes active less frequently and each outbreak becomes less severe.

Read more about the symptoms of genital herpes.

The herpes simplex virus (HSV)

There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV), type 1 and type 2. Both types are highly contagious and can be passed easily from one person to another by direct contact.

Genital herpes is usually transmitted by having sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with an infected person. Even if someone with genital herpes doesn't have any symptoms, it's possible for them to pass the condition on to a sexual partner.

At least eight out of 10 people who carry the virus are unaware they have been infected because there are often few or no initial symptoms. However, certain triggers can activate the virus, causing an outbreak of genital herpes.

Read more about the causes of genital herpes.

Who is affected?

Genital herpes is a common condition, especially in people from 20 to 24 years old.

In 2013, 32,279 people attended a sexual health clinic in England with an attack of genital herpes for the first time.

Read more about how genital herpes is diagnosed.

Treating genital herpes

Although there's no cure for genital herpes, the symptoms can usually be controlled using antiviral medicines.

However, it's important to prevent the spread of genital herpes by avoiding sex until symptoms have cleared up and continuing to use a condom afterwards.

Read more about how genital herpes is treated.

Pregnancy

Genital herpes can cause problems during pregnancy. These complications can be more serious depending on whether you already have genital herpes, or develop it for the first time while pregnant.

Read more about complications of genital herpes.




Genital herpes: Marian's story

Marian contracted herpes from her boyfriend. She talks about the symptoms, how it can be treated, and the issue of discussing herpes with your partner.

Media last reviewed: 16/03/2013

Next review due: 16/03/2015

What happens at an STI clinic

What to expect at an STI clinic, including tests, treatment and the questions you may be asked

Page last reviewed: 22/08/2014

Next review due: 22/08/2016