What is the treatment for genital herpes?
General measures that may help to ease symptoms when they occur
- Painkillers such as paracetamol may help to ease pain.
- If it is painful when you pass urine, it is often less painful if you pass urine whilst sitting in a warm bath or with water flowing over the area.
- A numbing (anaesthetic) ointment that you can buy at pharmacies, called lidocaine 5% gel, may relieve itching or pain. Some people also apply ointment about five minutes before passing urine if this is painful. Note: some people are sensitive (allergic) to anaesthetic ointments, and the ointment then makes skin symptoms worse. Applying Vaseline® before passing urine may be a helpful alternative to anaesthetic ointment.
- Ice wrapped in a tea towel (an ice pack) placed over the sores for 5-10 minutes may be soothing. Do not put ice directly on to skin, as this may cause an 'ice burn'.
- Have plenty to drink. This can help to make your urine less strong and less concentrated. This may make passing urine less painful.
- Do not use scented soaps, bubble bath, etc, as these may irritate. Gentle cleaning of the sores with just cotton wool and plain or salt water is best. Gentle drying with a hairdryer on its lowest setting may be more comfortable than with a towel.
- When you resume sexual activity after an episode has cleared, a lubricant may help, as some people find the friction of having sex may trigger a recurrence.
- You will not pass on this virus through using towels, facecloths, toilets or swimming pools.
- You should avoid having sex until the sores and blisters have cleared and/or you have seen a doctor for follow-up.
- It is best to be honest and tell your sexual partner if you have been diagnosed with genital herpes. If they have not got the infection, the doctor or nurse at the GUM clinic will explain ways to reduce the chances of passing it on to them. The doctor or nurse will also help explain that because of the way the virus works, it is not possible to tell how long ago you acquired the infection. Sometimes people are scared to tell their partners in case their partner thinks they have been unfaithful. Or it may be that they are worried their partner has been unfaithful and given them the infection. But because there is often a long time lag, this is often not the case. Your GUM clinic doctor or nurse will help you with these worries.
Antiviral medication does not clear the virus from the body. It works by stopping the virus from multiplying. Antiviral medicines include aciclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir. Antiviral medication is most useful for a first episode of symptoms. It reduces the severity and duration of symptoms if it is started within five days of symptoms starting. A five-day course of treatment is usual but may be extended by a few days if blisters are still forming.
Antiviral medication may not be needed to treat recurrences. This is because symptoms are often much milder than the first episode and usually last just a few days. However, if you tend to have bad symptoms during recurrences then a course of medication can be useful. To reduce the duration and severity of a recurrence, start the medication as soon as symptoms begin. Some doctors prescribe antiviral medication that you can keep at home and can start at the first sign of a recurrence. Starting treatment early can help to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
If you have frequent recurrences, an option is to take antiviral medication every day. In most people who take medication every day, the recurrences are either stopped completely, or their frequency and severity are greatly reduced. This is called suppressive treatment.
Did you find this information useful?
- Herpes simplex - genital; NICE CKS, September 2012 (UK access only)
- 2014 UK National Guideline for the Management of Anogenital Herpes; British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (2014)
- Management of Genital Herpes in Pregnancy; British Association of Sexual Health and HIV and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (Oct 2014)
- 2017 European guidelines for the management of genital herpes; International Union against Sexually Transmitted Infections (IUSTI) (2017)
- 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines - Genital Herpes; Centers for Disease Control and prevention CDC, (2015)
- Hollier LM, Wendel GD; Third trimester antiviral prophylaxis for preventing maternal genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) recurrences and neonatal infection. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23 (1):CD004946.
- Kang SH, Chua-Gocheco A, Bozzo P, et al; Safety of antiviral medication for the treatment of herpes during pregnancy. Can Fam Physician. 2011 Apr 57(4):427-8.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.