Recognising Genital Herpes
How do I know I have genital herpes?
Genital herpes symptoms are often mild and infrequent, often going unnoticed. For this reason the majority of people who have genital herpes (sometime referred to as HSV-2) may be unaware they have it. Learning to recognise genital herpes symptoms can help an individual avoid sexual contact during a herpes episode and hence reduce the risk of transmitting genital herpes to a sexual partner.
For those people who experience more severe symptoms, an outbreak of genital herpes commonly consists of blisters or sores (like cold-sores) on or around your genitals. If you have concerns, or think you may have genital herpes, talk to your doctor.
Genital herpes episodes
Genital herpes usually consists of breakouts or episodes, interspersed with symptom-free periods. The first herpes episode is usually the most severe, and can start with tingling, itching, or burning in or around the genitals, and flu-like symptoms, aches, pains – especially down the back, and the back of the legs. This may be followed by pain on passing urine and an outbreak of herpes sores or blisters on or around the genitals.
If left untreated, these herpes symptoms can last up to a month. Subsequent herpes breakouts, called recurrences, are generally milder and don't last as long as the first.
Some people do not experience a severe first herpes episode and just notice occasionally recurring herpes sores or blisters on the genitals that come and go at irregular intervals lasting 3 to 5 days.
Other people may have 'atypical' herpes symptoms such as a 'pimple ' that comes and goes or a 'crack ' in their skin around the genital area . Yet other people may experience a severe first herpes episode and then not have any further herpes recurrences.
For some people, herpes recurrences can be reasonably frequent and physically uncomfortable, usually presenting as clusters of blisters which burst, forming ulcers, which crust over and heal.
In women with herpes, the genital areas most affected are the vulva and the entrance to the vagina. Herpes sores can sometimes develop on the cervix.
In men with herpes, sores are most common on the end of the penis, the foreskin and shaft of the penis. Sometimes, herpes sores can develop on the testicles.
Less commonly both men and woman can experience herpes sores on the anus, buttocks and tops of the thighs.
The perineal area
The sacral ganglion
If you have concerns, or think you may have genital herpes, talk to your doctor. Accurate diagnosis of genital herpes is made most easily and correctly at the time of the first herpes infection.
The usual procedure to confirm the presence of the Herpes Simplex virus is for the doctor to perform a swab test, in which a sample of the fluid from a blister, or a swab from ulcers, is taken and sent away for analysis.
Because it is possible for a person with genital herpes to have another sexually transmitted disease at the same time, a full genital check should be made. For women this may include having a PAP smear.
It is important to note that having genital herpes is not associated with abnormal smears.
You can also download our guides which are divided into four sections (in pdf form):
Genital Herpes - The Facts
Herpes and Relationships
Herpes and Pregnancy
Alternatively you can download our guide as one pdf.
Also available: Herpes... Myths vs Fact (in pdf form).
Click here if you would like to get a print copy of the information booklet "The Facts: A guide for people with Genital Herpes" (it contains sections on Genital Herpes - The Facts, Herpes and Relationships, Herpes and Pregnancy, Facial Herpes).