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Genital herpes

Signs and Symptoms
Both men and women may have one or more symptoms including:

Itching or tingling sensation in the genital or anal area
Small fluid-filled blisters. These burst and leave small sores which can be very painful. In time they dry out, scab over and heal. With the first infection they can take between 2 and 4 weeks to heal properly
Pain when passing urine, if it passes over any of the open sores
A flu-like illness, backache, headache, swollen glands or fever
At this time the virus is highly infectious.

Recurrent infections are usually milder. The sores are fewer, smaller, less painful and heal more quickly.

Herpes is passed on through direct contact with an infected person. The virus affects the areas where it enters the body. This can be by:

Kissing (mouth to mouth)
Penetrative sex (when the penis enters the vagina, mouth or anus)
Oral sex (from mouth to the genitals)

Diagnosis and Treatment
At your sexual health (GUM) clinic a diagnosis will be carried out based on:

A clinical examination of your genital area carried out by a doctor or a nurse
A sample will be taken, using a cotton-wool or spongy swab, from any visible sores
Women may be given an internal pelvic examination
A sample of urine is taken
Samples are sent to a laboratory for testing and the results should be available within two weeks.

If you are told that you have herpes you may be offered tablets to reduce the severity of the infection but these are only effective when taken within 72 hours of the start of the symptoms. There is also a cream which controls the symptoms. Recurrent infections may not need treatment.

You will usually be asked to see a health adviser who will explain about the infection and what you can do to help you feel better and how to avoid passing the virus on to others.

Taking care of yourself and your partner
During an episode of herpes, the blisters and sores are highly infectious and the virus can be passed on to others by direct contact. To prevent this from happening you should avoid:

kissing when you or your partner have cold sores around the mouth
having oral sex when you or your partner have mouth or genital sores
having any genital or anal contact, even with a condom or dental dam, when you or your partner have genital sores
sharing towels and face flannels
using saliva to wet contact lenses if you have sores around your mouth
Long Term Effects
Having herpes does not affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant but if herpes occurs in the first 3 months of pregnancy there is a small risk of miscarriage. If you are having an episode of herpes when the baby is due, you may be advised to have a Caesarean delivery to reduce the risk of infecting the baby. It is very unusual in the UK for babies to be infected with herpes.

If you think you have been at risk contact your local NHS sexual health (GUM) clinic and make an appointment.

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