Herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause blisters and sores. There are two types of herpes, the kind you get on your face, and the kind you get in your pants. Unfortunately there is no cure for herpes, but using condoms and other safe sex measures can reduce your chances of getting and spreading it.

This can help if:

  • you have sores on your genitals or mouth and you think it might be herpes

  • you want to know the signs and treatment for herpes

  • you want to know how to stop the spread of herpes.

Headless couple walking holding hands

What is herpes?

Herpes is an STI caused by the herpes simplex virus. You get the virus from close skin contact, including unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex, or from kissing someone who has a cold sore. Usually (but not always), people with the virus will notice because they will get small painful sores on their genitals, anus or mouth. There are two forms of the herpes virus:

  • Type 1 causes sores on the mouth and face and is often referred to as ‘cold sores’.

  • Type 2 is more common, and causes sores in the genital area.

Symptoms of herpes

  • Your lips, genitals or anus itch or tingle.

  • Blisters appear where the itch had been. These usually burst and leave a painful sore that will scab over.

  • The first time you get blisters or sores, you may also feel fluey or very run-down and tired.

Receiving a herpes diagnosis and getting treatment

You can only get tested for herpes when you have a sore. If you’ve recently had unprotected sex with a person for the first time, it’s important that you get a sexual health check, even if you don’t have any weird symptoms.

Once you have the virus, it stays with you. Luckily, the outbreaks of sores will be less frequent and less painful over time. Talk to your doctor to learn how to manage the virus, and try to look after yourself. You’re more likely to have an outbreak if you’re stressed, tired or run-down.

Stopping the spread of herpes

The best way to protect yourself from giving or receiving the herpes virus is to use condoms and dental dams (a thin plastic barrier). The virus is more likely to be transferred during an outbreak of sores, so if you’re having sex with someone who has blisters on their mouth or genitals, ensure the condom or dental dam covers this area, and don’t make direct skin contact with the sores.

What can I do now?