The Ultimate Guide To Genital Herpes

What Is Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) (CDC, 2020). This virus is spread though vaginal, anal and oral sex (, 2020). Symptoms clear up on their own, but can come back (, 2020).

Common Sexually Transmitted Infections


Genital Herpes






Viral Hepatitis

Male Urethritis Syndrome


Two Types Of Herpes

There are two main types of herpes viruses (WHO, 2021):

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1):

This type gives symptoms like cold sores or fever blisters on or around the mouth.

Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2):

This type is mainly found in the genital area with pain, itching and sores.

Both types of herpes can cause outbreaks on the mouth, genitals, or other parts of the body (CDC, 2021).

How Common is Herpes?

Herpes is a common across the world:

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 3.7 billion people under the age of 50, are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1),

While an estimated 491 million people, between 15 and 49 years old, are infected with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) (WHO, 2021).

HSV-2 is even more common in South Africa:

In South Africa, studies have found that 40 to 70% of sexually active people have an HSV-2 infection (Abbai et., 2019). This is significantly higher than the global average prevalence of 13% (WHO, 2021).

What Happens If You Ignore A Herpes Infection?

If you don’t diagnose and treat a herpes infection:

✔ Increased risk of spreading the infection to other parts of the body or to other people.

✔ Pain and discomfort during outbreaks, which can interfere with sexual activity and quality of life.

✔ Recurrent outbreaks for years, which can be traumatising and disruptive to daily life.

What Other Health Complications Are Caused By Herpes?

Complications For Pregnant Women:

In pregnant women, a herpes infection can be transmitted to the baby during delivery, which can lead to serious health problems for the newborn (WHO, 2022).

✔ Herpes Infections Can Cause Blindness:

Herpes can infect the cornea and cause blindness (CDC, 2022). In most cases, this infection usually gets better without damaging the eye, but in more severe infections the cornea can be scarred, or a person can go blind (CDC, 2022). This has made HSV Keratitis, into a major cause of blindness worldwide (CDC, 2022).

✔ Herpes can cause Meningitis or Encephalitis:

In some cases, Herpes can also affect the central nervous system, and cause meningitis or encephalitis; this can be life-threatening (Tyler, 2004).

✔ HSV-2 infection Can Cause Outbreaks On Other Parts of the Body:

HSV-2 infection can also cause outbreaks on other parts of the body, such as the fingers and eyes (CDC, 2021).

✔ HSV-1 Increases The Risk Of Alzheimer’s Disease:

There is overwhelming evidence that a Herpes simplex type 1 virus infection can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (Itzhaki, 2021). Evidence suggests that HSV1 can enter the brain, probably during middle age, and can hide there in a dormant form (Itzhaki, 2021). But when a person experiences stress, inflammation, and other events, the virus can be reactivated and damage the brain enough over time to cause Alzheimer’s disease (Itzhaki, 2021).

How Do You Get Herpes?

How Do You Get Herpes?

Short answer: Herpes can be picked up through all different kinds of skin contact during sex.

Long answer: Herpes can be easily spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who is living with the virus. Examples of this can be contact with the herpes sore of a partner who has herpes sores or warts, contact with the saliva of a person who has oral herpes, contact with the bodily fluids of a person who has a genital herpes infection and/or contact with the genital skin area of a person who has genital herpes (CDC, 2022).

You get the Herpes virus when one person’s vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, anus or used sex toys, touches another person’s genitals or mouth and throat.

Herpes can be spread even if there is no ejaculation, or if a penis does not go inside the vagina/anus/mouth (, 2023). Infection can even happen when a person with Herpes has no signs or symptoms (CDC, 2022).

How To Protect Yourself Against Herpes

You cannot fully protect yourself against Herpes, but you can lower your chances of getting the virus by (CDC, 2021):

✔ Using condoms. This helps a lot, but they do not cover all the skin around your genitals, so you don’t have full protection.

✔ Holding back from having sex when a partner is having symptoms of the virus.

✔ If your partner has herpes, taking medication can suppress the virus enough to lower the risk of transmitting it.

After Exposure, When Will Symptoms Start?

The average incubation period for an initial herpes infection is 4 days (range, 2 to 12) after exposure (CDC, 2021).

Most people with genital herpes have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms (CDC, 2022).

If a person experiences an initial outbreak of herpes, they can have repeated outbreaks, especially if they have HSV-2 (CDC, 2022).

However, outbreaks after the first time are usually shorter and less intense (CDC, 2022). Although genital herpes is a lifelong infection, the number of outbreaks may decrease over time (CDC, 2022).

What Are The Symptoms of Herpes?

If there are symptoms, they are usually mild and even unnoticeable. Herpes generally takes the form of sores (CDC, 2022).

These can appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth (CDC, 2022). The blisters will break and leave painful sores that may take a week or more to heal.

This is called having an “outbreak”.

Flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, body aches, or swollen glands) also may occur during the first outbreak (CDC, 2022).

Is Herpes Treatable?

Yes, there are common antiviral medications that can be taken daily to prevent and/or shorten outbreaks (CDC, 2021).

These medications also help to reduce the chances of spreading it to others (CDC, 2021).

However, there is no drug that can get rid of the herpes virus (CDC, 2021).

How To Test For Herpes With Epicentre

Epicentre offers a range of STI tests, including herpes testing, to get tested:

Walk into Or make a booking online for one of our branches and request an STI screening.

If you’d like to get you’d like to get tested at home, check out our STI Test In a Box.

Unsure? Simply contact our team, we’re so happy to guide you through this process.

Testing For Herpes With Epicentre

1. Book an appointment online or just come through to one of our branches.

2. When you arrive, let our nurse you are there for an STI test. Choose which STIs you would like to get, get the whole package, or add on additional STIs to screen for.

4. Our nurse will take you through to our blood collection lounge.

5. Our nurses are trained to make the process of collecting a blood sample as painless and comfortable as possible. Simply sit back and relax.

4. Your sample will then be sent to our laboratory. You will receive a SMS and email with a link to your result.

Why Is STI Testing The Start Of A Health Relationship

Regular STI testing helps to protect both partners from potential infections and prevent the spread of STIs to others. It is also a sign of respect and trust for each other, as it shows that both partners are committed to maintaining their sexual health and the health of their relationship.

STI testing is crucial as it begins a relationship with open communication and honesty, which are crucial components of any healthy relationship. By starting with STI testing, partners can set the foundation for a strong and lasting relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and a shared commitment to sexual health.

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