What is herpes? - Play Safe
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Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

There are two types:  HSV 1 (usually known as cold sores) and HSV 2 (usually known as genital herpes).

It’s really common! In fact, 1 in 8 Australian adults aged over 25 years have HSV 2, and 7 out of 10 people have HSV 1.

It’s important to know that both types of HSV may cause blisters and sores on the lips and mouth or genital and anal areas.

The surprising thing is that most people with HSV may not have any symptoms at all, ever. And the virus will cause them no physical harm. This means people honestly don’t know they’re carrying the herpes virus!

For people who experience genital herpes symptoms, it sometimes starts with a tingling, itching sensation on the skin. Some small blisters or red ulcers may appear on the skin around the genitals. These ulcers are usually painful. It’s very common for genital herpes symptoms to last up to 2 weeks and then go away.

Some people may get a severe first episode of genital herpes symptoms. They might also feel unwell with flu-like symptoms, including tiredness, fever and headache, and it can hurt to urinate (pee).

Depending on the type of HSV, symptoms may recur. The good news is that future recurrences (if any) are usually less severe.  Everyone’s different as to how often (if ever) they might get a recurrence of genital herpes.

So how do you get HSV?

HSV 1 can be passed on through kissing and to someone’s genitals through oral sex. This is really common. HSV 2 is passed on when one person’s genital skin rubs against their partner’s genital skin during vaginal or anal sex.

It’s good to avoid skin-to-skin contact when symptoms are present, as this increases the risk of passing HSV on to others. Occasionally, herpes can be passed on at times when there aren’t any symptoms present. Practising safe sex by using condoms during oral, vaginal, and anal sex is the best way to reduce the risk of transmitting HSV.

Taking antiviral medication for herpes can treat the symptoms and help reduce the risk of passing it on.

So you think you have genital herpes symptoms?

The best thing to do is go and see a doctor who can take a swab from a blister or ulcer. The best time to get tested and confirm for herpes is early when you first have the symptoms.

Genital herpes gets a bad rap. The stigma behind herpes is often worse than the skin infection itself. Just remember that some extra precautions need to be taken and you can still enjoy a healthy and safe sex life.

If you want to know more, check out the common STI page or ring 1800 451 624 between 9.00am and 5.30pm Monday to Friday to talk with a sexual health nurse. It’s confidential and free if you call from a landline.