Genital Herpes: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

What you need to know about genital herpes, a common and highly contagious sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. Read on to find out more about one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI).


Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) affecting both men and women. The virus spreads primarily through sexual contact. It does not spread through contact with objects used by an infected person because the virus dies quickly outside of the body.
Read on to find out more about genital herpes so you can take the necessary steps to prevent it from spreading to you and your sex partner.  

Causes of Genital Herpes 

There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections that can cause genital herpes:
  • HSV type 1 (HSV-1): often spread through skin-to-skin contact, HSV-1 usually causes cold sores or blisters around the mouth and can be spread to the genital area through oral sex 
  • HSV type 2 (HSV-2): this type commonly causes genital herpes and can be spread through sexual and skin-to-skin contact. HSV-2 is common and highly contagious, and can be spread whether or not the infected person has an open sore
Complications associated with genital herpes include: 
  • An increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections such as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), chlamydia and gonorrhoea
  • Newborn infection: a mother with open sores can spread the infection to her newborn as the baby passes through the birth passage during childbirth resulting in brain damage, blindness or even death for the newborn

Symptoms of Genital Herpes 

Some people infected with HSV may experience mild or no symptoms so they may not be aware that they are infected. However, there are some common symptoms that can help you better deduce if you have genital herpes.
Some symptoms include:
  • Small, red bumps, blisters, or open sores (ulcers) on your genital, anal and surrounding areas
  • Pain or itching around the genital area, buttocks or inner thighs
  • Pain while urinating
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, fever and muscle aches 
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin area
For women, sores typically develop on the vaginal area, external genitals, buttocks, anus or cervix. For men, sores can appear on the penis, scrotum, buttocks, anus or thighs. The initial symptom of genital herpes usually presents as pain or itching in the genital area after exposure to an infected sexual partner. Small, red blisters may then appear in the genital area and they may rupture. 

Recurrence of Genital Herpes

Signs and symptoms of genital herpes may recur for years. While some people may experience numerous episodes each year, the outbreaks usually get less frequent as time passes.
Outbreaks of genital herpes may be triggered by:
  • Stress
  • Menstruation
  • Illness
  • Surgery
  • A suppressed immune system brought on by medications such as steroids or chemotherapy, or infections caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) 

How is it diagnosed? 

Genital herpes can be diagnosed through the following methods:
  • A clinical examination
  • Tissue sampling from blisters or early ulcers
  • Blood tests to confirm diagnosis

What are the treatment options available? 

There is currently no cure for genital herpes. However, oral antiviral medications can be prescribed to help heal the sores and reduce the frequency of the infection recurring.

How can I prevent it? 

The best way to prevent an infection is to practise abstinence and limit sexual contact to only one partner who is infection-free.
Other precautions that you can adopt include:
  • Using a condom when engaging in sexual activity 
  • Limiting your number of sex partners
  • Avoiding sexual intercourse if either partner has an outbreak of herpes in the genital or other areas
If you have an active infection:
  • Avoid sexual intercourse
  • Keep your sores clean and dry
  • Avoid touching the sores and wash your hands after contact with any sores
  • If you are pregnant, see your doctor immediately for further advice
  • If you think you may have an STI, go for a sexual health screening or HIV screening. You may get yourself tested for STIs or HIV/AIDS at polyclinics, private clinics, and hospitals in Singapore.
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