Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the virus 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 two 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. Condoms 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.

Find your nearest sexual health clinic

There are sexual health clinics all over New Zealand. Find a sexual health clinic near you.


You can experience symptoms as early as two days after being infected with genital herpes – however, you may not experience symptoms for months, years or you may never experience any symptoms.

Generalised symptoms include:

  • itching or tingling, burning, or pain
  • painful red 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

Even if you 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 get rid of 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. Go to Safer sex and condoms to find out more.

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