Resource for GPs to Counsel Patients


It Can Happen to Anyone: First Diagnosis of Genital Herpes

Genital herpes a common infection that affects 'ordinary' people

Myths and ignorance abound......Good information helps make sense of diagnosis

Why do I feel this way?

Common reactions

A diagnosis is often unexpected and you may feel
  • Surprise, shock and grief
  • Uncertainty
  • Anger & blame
  • or just have some questions......

What is the herpes simplex virus (HSV)?

  • A common viral infection that's been around for centuries
  • Most people have no symptoms
  • Causes facial herpes (HSV1) passed by kissing
  • and genital herpes (HSV1 or HSV2) passed by oral sex (HSV1) or genital to genital contact (HSV1 or HSV2)
  • A fragile virus that dies when it leaves living human cells - not passed on through non-sexual contact e.g. toilets & showers, trying on clothes, medical examinations

When did I contract the virus?

Often not possible to work out because:
  • Most people contract herpes from a partner who did not know they have HSV
  • Most have very mild, or no symptoms and go undiagnosed - may have genital herpes for months or years before diagnosed, if ever
  • Only small % of people have severe 1st symptoms - may indicate new infection
  • HSV is not routinely tested for in sexual health check-up

How do people contract genital herpes?

Through direct skin to skin sexual contact including:

  • Genital to genital and oral to genital
  • Therefore virgins can & do contract genital herpes
  • Condoms reduce transmission (condoms do stop many STIs)
  • Partner has to be infected either facially or genitally – sore may not be obvious & the virus may be on the surface of the skin without symptoms on small % of days

Who did I contract the infection from?

  • May be impossible to work out how long a personhas had the infection & who HSV came from
  • If genital HSV1 - probably transmitted through oral sex, partner may have or had 'cold sores' on face
  • If first symptoms are mild, may have had the infection for months or years
  • Significant first symptoms ('flu-like illness, lots of blisters) may mean HSV contracted in past 2-20 days.
  • If several recent partners may be impossible to determine who the infection came from. Genital herpes may appear in a long-term relationship with no outside partners involved

What next? Recurrences and treatment options

  • Recommend oral anti-viral medication and pain relief to treat first episode
  • Optional oral medication for recurrences
  • If unwell take time off work - rest
  • Prescription needed for anti-viral medication
  • HSV1 – may have few, if any recurrences
  • HSV2 – may have 2-6 recurrences per year
  • Recurrences usually mild and are over in a few days
  • Most people don't use regular medication after 1st episode

What next? Relationships

  • Talk to your partner - share information
  • Partner may have HSV – once contracted the virus doesn't pass back and forth
  • Reduce transmission by avoiding genital contact with partner when symptoms present
  • Condoms reduce transmission of HSV
  • If partner does contract virus, most likely to have few if any symptoms

What's next? Future plans

People with genital herpes have normal lives...

  • Have normal fertility
  • Women have healthy babies and vaginal deliveries
  • Can donate blood
  • Can work in any occupation
  • Can use spa & swimming pools
  • Can cuddle with their kids in bed, share a bath
  • Make choices with their partners about sexual
  • practices and the use of condoms
  • Have the same overall health, immune system and lifespan as others and no additional cancer risk

What next? Talking is good

  • Tell trusted friend/family member
  • Return to your GP, Family Planning Clinic
  • or sexual health clinic for follow-up
  • Counselling available at sexual health clinics
  • For information, phone counselling & support group contact:
  • Phone tollfree 0508 11 12 13 or from a mobile 09 433 6526

NZ Herpes Foundation: Helping people to live ordinary lives

Tollfree 0508 11 12 13
Or from a mobile 09 433 6526