Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex 2 virus. It is the most common ulcerative STI with around 20,000 new cases being diagnosed in the UK each year. It is similar to infection with herpes simplex 1 virus which causes cold sores, but is generally much more severe than the HSV1 virus infection.


If you are at risk of picking up any sexually transmitted infections, then it is highly advisable to be tested and treated without delay. Early treatment reduces the risk of complications in the future.

Diagnosis of genital herpes is usually by visual inspection by a trained doctor or nurse. Swabs from the lesions can be taken, but the lesions need virus within them to identify it. A blood test can help distinguish between herpes simplex I and herpes simplex II but is not reliable until 12 weeks have passed.

If the test is positive, then you may need further testing to see if you have picked up any other infections. At JA Medical, our doctor or nurse will provide you with impartial and confidential advice based on your sexual history and symptoms, and recommend the most appropriate screening / testing.


Genital herpes is usually passed on by skin-to-skin contact with someone who is already infected with the virus, most commonly by having vaginal, anal or oral sex, or just close genital contact with an infected person. Infection is highest when your sexual partner has blisters or sores. It is still possible to pick up genital herpes when your partner does not have sores, but the chances are much less.

Wearing a condom during sex helps to reduce the risk of contracting genital herpes and other sexually transmitted infections. If you have unprotected sex then your partner and you may not see the sores because they may be hidden inside the vagina or anus. The risk of infection increases with the number of changes of sexual partner.


There is no cure for genital herpes, but there are good treatments which can reduce the severity of the symptoms when they develop and reduce the frequency of other attacks. They involve either taking tablets or using creams or lotions which can be applied to the affected areas.