Genital herpes service
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is passed through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. There is no cure for herpes, but herpes treatments can prevent outbreaks and reduce the symptoms caused by the infection.
- Complete a short medical questionnaire
- Highlight a preferred treatment
- Doctor reviews your answers and notes your preferred treatment
Important: If your preferred treatment is not clinically suitable, your doctor will offer an alternative or advise you on what to do next.
Genital herpes treatments available
Frequently asked questions
Genital herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The virus causes an outbreak of blisters which are common herpes symptoms. Treatment is with antiviral medication to help prevent and control outbreaks.
If you’re unsure if you have herpes, you can take a genital herpes test at home.
There are 3 main types of treatment for genital herpes:
- Aciclovir tablets
- Valaciclovir tablets
- Famciclovir tablets
Aciclovir tablets are used for outbreaks of genital herpes or cold sores to treat the symptoms. They can also be used to prevent outbreaks from happening if you get them often. How much you take and how long you take them for can vary depending on what you’re using it for – whether you’re using it to treat an outbreak or to prevent future outbreaks.
Valaciclovir tablets are known as a pro-drug, which means your body converts it into aciclovir after you take them. Like aciclovir tablets, they can be used to treat symptoms or to prevent outbreaks.
A doctor may prescribe famciclovir tablets if you find that aciclovir or valaciclovir haven’t worked for you.
The herpes virus is easy to pass on during an active outbreak (when you have symptoms). Avoid having sex until all skin sores have healed completely.
If you do have sex, you should use a condom. Using a condom will help lower the risk of passing the virus on to your sexual partners. But condoms only cover the penis and leave other areas of your and your partner’s skin exposed. This means that there’s still a risk that you could spread the virus. This is why you should avoid having sex altogether (including anal or oral sex) when you’re having an outbreak.
Once you carry the virus, you can still pass it on to a partner even if you’re not having symptoms. So it may be best to carry on using condoms once you’ve healed to prevent the virus from spreading. You should also have an open and honest chat about your diagnosis with any sexual partners before having sex.
For more advice, you can speak to one of our doctors in a telephone consultation.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for herpes. The virus stays inactive (dormant) in your body and activates from time to time to cause outbreaks, months or even years after you’re first infected. This is when you get symptoms. Antiviral medication for herpes can only help control the outbreaks or suppress the virus.
Both genital and oral herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are 2 types of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. These are both known to cause genital herpes and cold sores (oral herpes). HSV-2 is more commonly associated with genital herpes. HSV-1 is usually linked with cold sores.
You can treat both types of herpes with antiviral medications. They work best if you start taking them as soon as you feel an outbreak coming on. For cold sores, you can also use aciclovir cream. This has the same active ingredient as aciclovir tablets but you put it directly onto the cold sore. Aciclovir cream is not recommended for genital herpes.
Before starting any treatment for a herpes outbreak, or if you have any new symptoms, you should always check with a doctor to make sure you’re using the right treatment.
No. The antiviral tablets cannot be bought over-the-counter. All herpes tablets are prescription-only. You’ll need to see your GP or order them from an online pharmacy or doctor service like Superdrug Online Doctor.
You can use painkillers and a numbing cream for genital herpes to help you with any pain or discomfort you may be getting.
As well as taking medication to help with symptoms, you can also try:
- using an anaesthetic gel to numb your skin and ease any pain
- soaking the affected area with plain or salt water
- applying Vaseline to the affected area
- drinking plenty of fluids
- wearing loose clothing
- taking pain relief medications, like paracetamol or ibuprofen
The symptoms of herpes outbreaks will usually go away by themselves within 10 days as your immune system fights the infection on its own. You might find the sores painful during that time, so medication can help you by clearing up the infection more quickly.
If you’d like to speak to one of our doctors about your symptoms, you can book a telephone consultation. They’ll be able to provide personalised advice on how to cope with genital herpes.
The common treatments of genital herpes are aciclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir. Common side effects from aciclovir or valaciclovir can include:
- feeling dizzy or tired
- feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- stomach pain
- skin rashes, itching or feeling hot
Common famciclovir side effects include headache and feeling sick (nausea) but they’re usually mild.
Michael Stewart (2020). Aciclovir for viral infections. Patient. [online] Available at: https://patient.info/medicine/aciclovir-for-viral-infections-zovirax [accessed 19 May 2021]
Michael Stewart (2019). Famciclovir for viral infections. Patient. [online] Available at: https://patient.info/medicine/famciclovir-for-viral-infections [accessed 19 May 2021]
Michael Stewart (2019). Valaciclovir for viral infections. Patient. [online] Available at: https://patient.info/medicine/valaciclovir-for-viral-infections-valtrex [accessed 19 May 2021]
NHS (2019) Aciclovir (including Zovirax). NHS. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/aciclovir [accessed 7 May 2021]
NICE (2021) Aciclovir. BNF. [online] Available at: https://bnf.nice.org.uk/drug/aciclovir.html [accessed 7 May 2021]