Herpes is an infection caused by a virus that often causes sores or blisters. You can also have herpes but have no signs.
The virus is called Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). There are two types of this virus known as:
Both types can cause genital herpes.
Herpes can sometimes cause problems for pregnant women, because the baby can become infected with herpes before or as it is being born. Fortunately, this is uncommon.
Cold sores (HSV-1) are common. And many people also have HSV-2 that usually causes genital herpes. But many people do not know they have it because they have not had any symptoms. Once you get herpes it stays in your body for the rest of your life. Usually there are no serious symptoms but every now and again you may get an outbreak of sores and blisters. These outbreaks can happen at any time. They are more likely if your immune system is weak for some reason or you have been under stress.
These outbreaks that happen after the first infection are not usually as bad as the first outbreak of herpes. This is because your body develop antibodies to fight any future outbreaks, although it doesn’t stop them altogether.
Herpes can be passed on by skin-to-skin contact through kissing, or oral, anal vaginal or front-hole sex. It can be passed on when someone has a sore or blister or if they have no signs (symptoms).
Sometimes there may be no signs even if you have herpes.
More often herpes usually starts with tingling, itching, burning or pain. If these signs are due to herpes then usually painful red spots appear. These red spots turn into blisters. These blisters then form scabs.
However, blisters do not always occur.
You may also have a discharge from your penis, bum or vagina or front-hole, or you might experience flu-like symptoms.
If symptoms occur they generally show up between two and seven days after you have been exposed.
There are two ways to test for herpes. The first is a swab from any visible blisters. The second is a blood test.
There is no cure for herpes – once infected you have the virus for the rest of your life.
There are treatments that can reduce the symptoms and speed up the recovery, and help reduce the chance of passing it on.
Using condoms and lube reduces the risk of getting or passing on genital herpes, but you can still get it or pass it on even when you use condoms, as condoms might not cover all of the infected areas. Treatments also reduce the risk of passing it on.
If you are HIV-negative, herpes sores or blisters can make it easier for HIV to pass into your body.
If you are HIV-positive and not taking treatment (medicines) for HIV, you can get herpes more often and they can be harder to treat, and they can increase the amount of HIV in your body (viral load) which can make you sick and make it easier to pass on HIV to other people.