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Genital Herpes

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Genital herpes is a highly contagious and common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus can be split into two common strains known as HSV-1 and HSV-2, however genital herpes is mainly contracted through the HSV-2 strain, while the HSV-1 strain causes cold sores. Mainly caused through unprotected sexual contact - via vaginal, anal or oral sex – genital herpes is extremely common and can lay dormant the vast majority of the time. When symptoms appear, these can be itchy red sores and fluid blisters.

Whilst genital herpes is a virus and therefore not completely curable, however it is extremely manageable with many people not experiencing frequent outbreaks. With genital herpes treatments, the virus can be effectively treated and managed, and the effects of an outbreak reduced. Medications such as Aciclovir and Famvir can be used to reduce and prevent the symptoms of genital herpes from reoccurring, whilst Valtrex can be used for HSV-2 as well as cold sores and shingles.

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team
Last reviewed 07-10-2021

Available Treatment(s)

Box of Valtrex 500mg valaciclovir film-coated tablets
Valtrex 4.5(25 Reviews)
    • Works quickly for symptomatic relief from cold sores, genital herpes and shingles
    • Can be taken as a preventative treatment for cold sores and genital herpes
    • Easy to take tablet form
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Prices start from £69.99
Box of Famvir 250mg famciclovir film-coated tablets
Famvir 4.3(3 Reviews)
    • Taken within the first 24 hours of an outbreak to provide the most effective results
    • Can be used to ward off future attacks of genital herpes and cold sores
    • Quickly alleviates uncomfortable symptoms
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Prices start from £279.99
Aciclovir 4.7(149 Reviews)
    • Can significantly reduce the recovery time of a herpes outbreak
    • Provides timely relief from painful and uncomfortable symptoms
    • Can be taken as a preventative treatment for cold sores and genital herpes
More Info
Prices start from £35.99

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a strain of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can lay dormant the vast majority of the time for many people. In fact, the symptoms are so infrequent that up to 80% of people don't realise they have the virus at all making the HSV-2 strain even more contagious. When revealing its symptoms, these come in the form of discomforting and sometimes painful blisters (lesions) that often appear on and around the genitals, hence the name, however genital herpes can also appear on the mouth and thighs as well. This can reduce in severity, frequency and length over time.

Being a viral infection, genital herpes is an incurable long-term (or chronic) condition and therefore common, especially among sexually active adults. However, this doesn't mean the condition is difficult and life altering. The symptoms tend to become increasingly more manageable over time and can be particularly infrequent. There are also highly effective treatments such as antiviral tablets that can relieve any painful symptoms within 24 hours, reduce the time span of the outbreak and can be used as a preventative treatment if you're prone to recurrent outbreaks due to certain triggers.

Genital herpes is one of two herpes simplex virus strains under the title of HSV-2. There is also the HSV-1 strain that causes cold sores, which is equally as common, if not more so, as well as herpes zoster (more commonly referred to as shingles).

How do you get genital herpes?

Genital herpes is highly contagious and most commonly passed on from one person to the next through unprotected sexual intercourse. This could be transmitted through vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex, or by touching the genitals of a person with active symptoms.

Whilst wearing a condom can significantly reduce your chances of getting herpes, it can still be passed onto you, especially if lesions (blisters) are present as the HSV-2 virus is spread through touch, which means the virus can be contracted by coming into contact with skin where an outbreak is present.

Symptoms are not always visible with this infection, which means that you don't necessarily have to have unprotected penetrative sex with an infected person to catch the HSV-2 virus.

Frequency and severity of herpes outbreaks

The NHS states that the average number of outbreaks depends on how long you have had the virus. For those in the first year, the symptoms tend to be the worse, however do decrease in severity over time and this may range from one to five outbreaks in the first two years.

This also reflects how long you experience an outbreak for, with the more intense long-lasting symptoms happening in the beginning and then decreasing over time and with effective treatment. The average time span of a herpes outbreak tends to be around the two-three week mark, with this decreasing when taking antiviral medications and using creams and ointments to soothe blisters and sores. Starting treatment for herpes quickly is essential in reducing the timeframe of your outbreak so many people keep tablets and ointment on-hand for when the initial tingling or burning sensation starts.

The first herpes outbreak will expose the worse of the symptoms, before this too decreases over time.

How to prevent genital herpes

Wearing a condom doesn't grant you complete immunity, however it can significantly reduce your chance of contracting the STI, especially if the virus is confined to the genitalia, as wearing a condom is 99% effective on average for all STIs when used correctly.

As well as practising safe sex by using a condom, you can refrain from sexual intercourse and intimate touching when sores, blisters and lesions are present or initial symptoms such as tingling occurs, as this is when the virus is most contagious. This is also the case for cold sores and kissing.

Once you have genital herpes, this can be managed by monitoring triggers. This can vary depending on the individual and can include cutting back on alcohol or keeping stress-free. This can act as an effective prevention when limiting recurrent outbreaks on the virus.

Genital herpes triggers

The herpes virus can never be completely cured, though it does remain dormant for the majority of the time. It is not entirely known what causes the virus to become active again and trigger an outbreak. Research has shown that factors can potentially increase your likelihood of developing an outbreak:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Stress or anxiousness
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Particular dietary choices
  • Exposing the genitals to direct sunlight
  • Friction around the genital area
  • Menstrual cycle in women

A weakened immune system due to a common cold or something more serious like chemotherapy can give the virus an opportunity to spread. In terms of alcohol, this alters your body's balance especially in terms of sugar intake, which can promote an outbreak. This is the same for sugar intake in your diet. Some people find keeping a mental or physical note on when an outbreak occurs can correlate with one of the above triggers.

The severity and frequency of these outbreaks tends to diminish over time. Others can be luckier, and won't experience symptoms for months or even years. The regularity of these outbreaks differs from person to person.

Genital herpes symptoms

Genital herpes symptoms can develop fast with discomforting and sometimes painful red blisters (lesions) and skin ulcers forming in the genital area, the thighs, anus and rectum. The blisters can also be painful when they burst, leaving open sores that are easily irritated. You may also experience:

  • Tingling sensation
  • Burning sensation
  • Fever
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Unusual vaginal discharge

Symptoms may last as long as 20 days before they go away so many use treatment or antiviral medications that can clear up the outbreak in a third of this time. Some people find that they will know when an outbreak is due because a tingling or burning sensation, allowing them to prepare with effective treatment.

Additionally, genital herpes go through what is known as a 'shedding phase', which means that the virus is active on the surface of the skin. Symptoms are not often visible during this phase, but the virus can still be passed on through skin-to-skin contact.

First genital herpes outbreak

Both initial and later outbreaks will display symptoms such as red blisters, ulceration and a tingling or burning sensation around the genitals, however the first outbreak will usually be the most severe and have some additional factors. Along with the usual symptoms, these will be more painful the first time, but luckily this decreases after.

As well as blisters, tingling, pain when urinating and vaginal discharge in women, the first outbreak may be accompanied by flu and cold symptoms like muscle aches, fever and nausea. The initial outbreak also tends to be the longest in length, with the recurrent virus becoming far more manageable over time.

How to test for genital herpes

As genital herpes very rarely displays any symptoms, and approximately 80% of those with the virus don't even know they have it, testing for the STI is extremely difficult. In fact, during an STI and sexual health check up at the sexual health or GUM clinic, the doctor and practitioners will not test for genital herpes unless a sore is present. This is down to the fact the STI isn't visible and therefore testing is very problematic as well as the individual being unaware he or she has the virus himself or herself.

If you do have a sore present, you can go to an NHS supported service for a free check-up (this could be a sexual health clinic, GUM clinic or your GP surgery) where they will take a sample of the sore during a swab test. This isn't painful but the doctor will need to have access to your genitals if that is where the sore is located.

Genital herpes treatment options

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted virus and although there is no cure, you can still reduce the timeframe of an outbreak by up to two-thirds by opting for medication or treatment.

This will also make the symptoms far more bearable, offering relief within 24 hours. When treating genital herpes, cold sores or shingles, it is important to start your chosen treatment as soon as possible for maximum effectiveness. This is why pinpointing triggers and keeping a small supply handy is recommended practice (always ensuring you are checking the use-by date before taking or applying). Some find all or occasional outbreaks to be mild, so your GP may suggest not using treatment at all.

Prescription medication

Treatments available to buy on prescription are clinically proven to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms of genital herpes within one day of starting the course. The same medication for genital herpes quite often works for cold sores and herpes zoster as well. Popular treatments include Aciclovir, Valtrex and Famvir that can all be taken as oral tablets and are proven effective.

Not only do symptoms reduce significantly, allowing you to continue with your day-to-day life, but the timespan of the outbreak can decrease to around five to seven days instead of the average of 20 days. Certain treatment such as Aciclovir can also be used as a preventative if you experience recurrent outbreaks, or know a certain trigger will cause blisters and sores.

Other methods

Self-help options can help surpass the unpleasant symptoms, and these are the same methods that are advised for many other infections:

  • Many people find salt water can help painful sores to heal quicker in the same case it is used to heal piercing and other cuts and infections.
  • A warm bath can help to soothe open sores and painful blisters.
  • Placing ice onto the blisters and sores can, in addition, help to quicken the process, however ice should never be directly placed onto the lesion, but wrapped in a flannel or towel.
  • Petroleum jelly is easily obtainable from your pharmacy and can coat and help the sores. This is the same for many anaesthetic creams; however do check with your doctor before use.
  • Loose and comfortable clothing will prevent the blisters from irritating, as well as cotton underwear.
  • Drinking plenty of water will help you pass urinate without pain if this is a troublesome symptom for you.

Living with genital herpes

After contracting herpes, whilst it is a chronic viral condition, it is completely manageable once you have established the triggers, symptoms and the correct treatment for you, however there are some guidelines to living with the condition:

  • Keeping treatment handy – medications do go out of date, so double check these before using and applying.
  • Establish a trusted supplier – at euroClinix we offer proven medication from the UK, approved by UK doctors.
  • A quick source – gaining treatment quickly is essential when treating genital herpes, because, when taken during the first 24 hours, antivirals will be the most effective.
  • Managing the triggers – keeping treatment to hand will help, however minimise your contact to others can reduce the number of bouts.
  • Your sex life – you should always tell your sexual partner(s) before sex. Whilst some will opt against sexual intercourse, when the virus is completely dormant and you use a suitable protection, there is a small chance of contracting the virus. Offering the full facts and advice is responsible and necessary for your partners health.

Genital herpes is highly contagious. It is of utmost importance to prevent the spread of genital herpes by avoiding sex until symptoms are not visible or present (i.e. the tingling sensation) and continuing to use a condom thereafter.

Your sexual partner(s) should always be aware that you have the STI, as whilst genital herpes doesn't cause serious health complication, there is a moral obligation.

How you buy genital herpes treatment online

At euroClinix, we operate a secure and reliable service for patients who want to buy genital herpes treatments with 100% discretion. To obtain a prescription, you will need to take a short online consultation with our doctor when you place your order. Our doctor needs to ensure that this medication is suitable for you before they can write a prescription. All treatments are dispatched from our pharmacy for free overnight delivery when ordered before 4.30pm. This means you avoid face-to-face appointments and get your treatment potentially quicker than booking and attending an appointment in person.

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