Genital herpes is essentially a minor, sometimes recurring, skin infection; 'cold sores' which occur on the genitals rather than the face. It does not cause long-term ill health or affect longevity of life. People who get genital herpes can and do lead perfectly normal lives.
A primary infection can be severe and involve generalised 'flu'-like symptoms. This, combined with the pain and discomfort of the sores and, in some cases, secondary infection, can leave people feeling very run-down. Fortunately, recovery is fast once the herpes has healed.
Sexual Relationships and Herpes
People with recurrent genital herpes may reconsider some aspects of sexual intimacy. For example, using non-genital forms of sexual contact when skin blisters or herpes ulcers are present. It also means considering, if, how and when you are going to tell a sexual partner (see Genital Herpes and Relationships). Many people do not understand what it means to have genital herpes or realise how common it is. Most people react supportively when told and appreciate and respect your honesty. People who choose not to tell a sexual partner risk the burden of fear, guilt and secrecy.
In an ongoing relationship where both partners fully understand the chance of herpes transmission, the use of condoms becomes less relevant.
In a long-term monogamous relationship, when one person gets herpes and the other person is not symptomatic, it is most likely both parties have the virus, so practising safe sex is not necessary as they cannot re-infect each other.
For people who experience very frequent herpes recurrences, suppressive antiviral therapy, which reduces the frequency of herpes recurrences, can help reduce the impact the herpes recurrences can have on sexual activity and may reduce the risk of herpes transmission.
Genital herpes is not hereditary. HSV (HSV-1 and HSV-2) has no effect on fertility and is not transmitted via sperm or egg cells.
All human herpes viruses are shed in small amounts in body fluids, including vaginal fluids, saliva and seminal fluids (the fluids that carry the sperm cells).1 However, there is no evidence that the transmission of the virus comes from contact with these fluids. Rather, evidence shows that herpes is transmitted through direct contact with 'mucosal surfaces', for example the mouth, vagina or anus during oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex or kissing.
1The presence of HSV in semen and vaginal fluids is associated with occasional reactivation/shedding of the virus coming into contact with semen.
Pregnant people with genital herpes can experience a safe pregnancy and vaginal childbirth. This is especially so when a person has a diagnosis of genital herpes prior to becoming pregnant. In the situation when the pregnant person already has a history of genital herpes, they will have antibodies circulating in their blood which will protect the baby during the pregnancy and delivery.
Genital herpes in either parent does not affect babies/children and there is little risk of herpes transmission as long as normal hygiene is ensured.
Parents should be aware, however, that HSV can be transmitted from oral cold sores simply by kissing and can cause serious, widespread (disseminated) herpes infection in the newborn. Fortunately, by the time a baby is about six months, the immune system is well able to cope with exposure to the herpes virus. Initial exposure to HSV in babies and young children, after being kissed by someone with a cold sore, can cause gingivostomatitis, an infection of the mouth and gums which goes largely unrecognised and untreated.
If you would like to get a print copy of the information booklets, fill out the form on the consumer request for printed materials page (it contains sections on Genital Herpes - The Facts, Herpes and Relationships, Herpes and Pregnancy, Facial Herpes).
The Guidelines are produced by considering available literature, both New Zealand wide and international, and by basing the medical recommendations on the evidence in the literature or reasonable supposition and opinions of medical experts.