Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by two types of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV type 1 usually causes sores on the mouth (commonly known as cold sores) and spreads easily via kissing or oral sex (during which it spreads to the genitals). HSV type 2 usually causes sores in the genital area (so it is known as genital herpes) and spreads easily through unprotected vaginal and anal sex. Both types affect men and women and while there is no cure, a prescription tablet can reduce an outbreak quickly and effectively.
Herpes symptoms can vary enormously from none to mild (which is sometimes confused with a skin condition), to years of painful and unsightly blisters. The initial infection is usually the most severe, but as this is a chronic condition it can recur for years and this can cause psychological problems and depression. If you are pregnant, tell your doctor as in some cases the virus can be passed on to your unborn child. Contracting genital herpes can also increase your chance of becoming infected with HIV so get tested.
One in three adults carries HSV naturally, so herpes is very common. If you have any type of unprotected sex with someone who is infected (and bear in mind they may not know as they may not have symptoms), you are at risk of becoming infected.
Last updated November 23, 2016