It is increasingly common in the UK, and is almost always sexually transmitted. There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV), type 1 and type 2 genital herpes involves type 1 (type 2 refers to sores that only appear on the mouth).
The HSV virus is dormant for most of the time, living in the nervous system. Outbreaks of the virus occur more frequently in the first year or two of contracting the virus, with 4-5 outbreaks per year initially, before the virus becomes less active, and the outbreaks become less frequent and less powerful.
Outbreaks typically last up to 20 days, through the cycle of development and suppuration of the sores, which eventually scab over and heal. They do not usually leave scars. Due to the lack of initial symptoms, as many as 8 out of 10 people are unaware that they carry the virus. Unlike most other sexually transmitted diseases, there is no definite way to prevent spread or contraction of genital herpes.
Barrier methods do not work to contain this condition, as sores can appear around the genital area, including the anus, thighs, or buttocks. The best way to avoid passing on the infection is to avoid engaging in sexual contact during outbreaks. Treatments of the antiviral acyclovir are available in tablet form for initial outbreaks; these do not kill the virus completely, but can manage the severity of outbreaks and lessen the frequency of future outbreaks.
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Yes, although you will get a more accurate result if you get tested when you are showing symptoms. The test is best done using a swab sample from an active blister or sore. If you do not have symptoms, a blood test can show the presence of herpes antibodies in your blood, which can indicate a current infection.
The only way to know for sure is to get tested, ideally whilst you still have the blisters. You may not have genital herpes other conditions can present with similar symptoms, including shingles (herpes zoster), and syphilis.
Yes. If a mother has a herpes infection, whether active or dormant, this can be passed on congenitally in utero. If the mother has an active outbreak during the time of delivery, the virus can be passed onto the baby while passing through the birth canal.