Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a common infection caused by a virus called herpes simplex. You can get genital herpes by having genital skin contact  with someone who has the infection. Most transmission occurs when herpes blisters or sores are not present. This can happen in two ways:
  • People who have recurrent (repeated episodes of) genital herpes can transmit the virus at the time of or between recurrences.
  • Many people exposed to the virus never develop any signs or symptoms of the infection but may transmit the virus to their sexual partner.
Herpes affects different people in different ways. Following exposure, some individuals will develop symptoms within two to fourteen days. However, most people have mild or no clinical symptoms of herpes.
The symptoms of the first episode of genital herpes may include a flu-like illness, swollen glands in the groin, pain and blisters in the genital area and pain on urinating. The entire episode can last from ten days to one month and will generally heal without any long term problems.

Subsequent episodes can vary from one or two to twelve or more episodes a year but generally last only a few days. The symptoms are usually minor, consisting of pain or tingling.
The best way of confirming a diagnosis is to go to your doctor when blisters or sores are present. A specimen will be taken from one of the sores or blisters and sent to the laboratory. Your doctor may also recommend tests to rule out other sexually transmissible infections.

Try to keep the area clean and dry. Bathing affected areas with a diluted salt solution two or three times a day can provide relief. If the pain is severe, aspirin or paracetamol may be helpful.
Antiviral drugs are available that help to manage genital herpes.

Pregnancy and the newborn

Occasionally, babies will become infected with herpes, but this is rare. It’s important to see your doctor if you have recurrent genital herpes and are thinking of becoming pregnant or are already pregnant, or if you’re pregnant and develop herpes for the first time.


For further information, please click on the link to visit the New Zealand Herpes Foundation website.


This page was last updated at 11:18AM on August 16, 2021.