Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease caused by the virus called herpes simplex (HSV).


Most people with the genital herpes virus don't have symptoms and are unaware they have it.

It is a common infection. One in five New Zealanders are infected with HSV.

There are 2 forms of the herpes simplex virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2.

  • HSV-1 often causes cold sores around the mouth
  • HSV-2 is the usual cause of infection around the genital or anal area.

You can get genital herpes by having skin contact, vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has either of the viruses. You can get herpes from an infected sex partner who does not have a visible sore. Use of a condom can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.

A mother can transmit the infection to her baby during childbirth if the mother has symptoms at the time.

Once a person is infected with HSV, the virus remains in a person's body and may flare up again.

Related websites

New Zealand Sexual Health Society (NZSHS)
NZSHS provide patient information on a variety of STIs.

Sexually transmitted infections – get help from Family Planning NZ
Family Planning provides a range of services including sexual and reproductive health information and clinical services.

Genital herpes – Better Health Channel
Information about genital herpes from the Victorian Government, Australia.

Genital herpes – NHS Choices
Information about genital herpes from the National Health Service, UK.


You can experience symptoms as early as 2 days after being infected with genital herpes – however, you may not experience symptoms for months, years or possibly not at all.

Generalised symptoms include:

  • itching or tingling, burning, or pain
  • painfulrred spots/sores that change to clear fluid-filled blisters
  • redness or a rash around the genital area
  • swelling of the genital area
  • pain while peeing
  • flu-like symptoms
  • vaginal discharge

While you may experience no symptoms at all, you can still spread the virus to sexual partners.


The main treatment for severe genital herpes is an antiviral drug. While this drug will help to reduce the number of outbreaks you may have, and speed up the healing process, it will not cure the virus.

The treatment may be used in two ways:

  1. to treat herpes outbreaks as they happen
  2. to prevent or reduce herpes recurrences

Genital herpes reoccurs at different stages for different people. Some people may have several attacks per year while some will not have any symptoms for many years.

For more information and advice about treatment please visit a health specialist. Any of the options below will be able to help you.

  • Sexual health clinic
  • Family planning centre
  • School nurse
  • Your doctor


Using a condom every time you have sex helps prevent the spread of STIs like gonorrhoea. Go to Safer sex and condoms to find out more.

For more advice on safe sex, STI checks and where to get them, and answers to frequently asked questions, go to Just the Facts about Sexual Health and STIs.

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