Genital herpes: a contagious venereal disease

Genital herpes is a venereal disease (STD) that causes painful blisters and sores to develop on the skin of the genitals. It is a highly contagious viral infection and is transmitted through sexual contact. Once you are infected, there is nothing you can do about it and treatment will have to be started by the doctor. How do you know if you have this venereal disease, what are the symptoms and how can it be treated?

What it is

Genital herpes is an STD (= sexually transmitted disease) that is caused by a virus. There are 2 types of this virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2 . HSV1 is the main pathogen of cold sores. The venereal disease genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2. It is very contagious and is transmitted through intimate sexual contact. As a result of contamination, the skin and mucous membranes of the genitals and anus will become infected, eventually causing painful blisters to develop. In a rare number of cases, this disease is caused by the HSV-1 type. This usually happens through oral sex.


It starts four to seven days after infection with a burning sensation, pain and itching around the genitals and anus. Some red spots appear. Small painful blisters then develop on the skin of the genitals or anus that break open into ulcers. Scabs form on the sores and they gradually dry up. After two to three weeks the visible symptoms have disappeared again. The virus has not yet disappeared and will remain in the nerves of the pelvis. The virus can become active again, causing new infections to occur. The symptoms that may occur with this condition are:

  • Painful blisters around and on the genitals and anus
  • Pain when urinating
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Feeling sick
  • Fever
  • Tender lymph nodes in the groin

What you can do yourself

Once you’re infected, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Be careful because it is a very contagious virus. Wash the affected areas only with water and gently pat dry. You can contaminate other parts of your body with your fingers, for example by rubbing your eyes. Even if it is very itchy, try not to touch the blisters and sores and wash your hands well. Using a condom does not always provide sufficient protection to prevent infection. It is better not to have sex with anyone else during the period of blisters and sores.

To the doctor

If you suspect genital herpes, go to your doctor. There is often pain and itching before anything is visible. No treatment can cure genital herpes, but the symptoms can be reduced. For example, in case of minor complaints, zinc oil will be prescribed with a possible pain-relieving substance. In case of serious complaints, treatment with an antiviral agent can be prescribed. This drug will also be used if there is regularly recurring genital herpes.

Risk of contamination

Even if there are no complaints and nothing can be seen, this virus can still be passed on to someone else. The chance of this happening is small. When you are infected with this virus for the first time, the skin of the genitals will be damaged for several weeks and can pass on the virus. With a subsequent infection, the contagious period is usually shorter and the symptoms are less severe. Genital herpes can only be transmitted if the rash from the infected mucous membrane comes into contact with the mucous membrane of the genitals, mouth or anus. The risk of infection is greatest around the time that someone has blisters or sores.


If you have ever had this STD, you can still become pregnant. Please let us know if you are going to see a doctor so that it can be taken into account. You can usually give birth naturally. If you become infected with this virus for the first time during your pregnancy, there are more risks. Although rare, the infection can ascend to the uterus and ovaries. The virus can be transmitted from the mother to the child during childbirth. Therefore, during an infection with the virus, it is usually decided to have the baby delivered by caesarean section.

Returning attack

When the blisters and sores have disappeared, it appears as if the virus has disappeared. The virus has retreated to the nerve in the pelvis where it remains in a dormant state. For unknown reasons, the virus can multiply again and cause blisters on the mucous membranes again. The recurring attack is usually less severe than the first attack. It also depends on the condition of the immune system. For example, stress, menstruation or flu will increase the chance of a recurring attack.

Keep your partner informed

If you have a permanent partner, it is advisable to inform them, even if the infection has occurred before and you have no complaints. This may not be strictly necessary if contacts change. If you know who you got it from, you can better inform that person. In this way, the spread of this condition can be limited. It is better not to have sexual intercourse during the period of the attack of genital herpes. If you really want it, use a condom. It does not provide sufficient protection to completely eliminate the risk of infection. It is possible to infect someone without having any symptoms yourself.