Home / The Key Facts

The Key Facts

who has herpes

  • keyfactsHerpes is a common STI and anyone who has ever had sex can get genital herpes. It’s not about being clean, dirty, good or bad.
  • 1 in 8 Australian adults over the age of 25 years has the virus that causes genital herpes.
  • Women are twice as likely to have the virus as men.
  • Up to 80% of people infected with genital herpes are unaware they have the virus.

how herpes is treated

  • There is no cure for genital herpes, but effective antiviral treatment is available once a doctor has diagnosed the infection.
  • Antiviral medication can be taken to reduce the duration and severity of an outbreak when it happens.
  • Simple daily treatment can also help to prevent potential outbreaks and reduce the impact of any that do occur.

the symptoms of herpes

  • The psychological distress associated with being diagnosed with genital herpes often affects people more than the actual symptoms. But most of the worry and anger is based on misunderstanding.
  • Some people with genital herpes don’t have lesions. Many people don’t realise they have genital herpes and often find out when they have a blood or swab test.
  • It usually takes between 2 and 7 days after contact for the first symptoms of genital herpes to appear.
  • The symptoms of genital herpes can vary. They may show up as painful blisters or sores, or just a mild rash. Symptoms may also appear on other parts of the body besides the genitals, such as the thighs or back.
  • After the initial infection, the virus lies dormant in the body. The virus can be reawakened by various triggers including:
    • Prolonged periods of stress
    • being run down
    • menstruation
    • conditions that suppress the immune system
    • drinking too much alcohol
  • When the virus is reactivated, some people with genital herpes can expect a recurrence of symptoms, such as burning or itching.

how herpes is passed on

  • As many people with the virus have mild or unrecognised symptoms, or none at all, they often don’t realise they are infected.
  • The virus can still be passed on when there are no visible symptoms.
  • Most people who infect others don’t realise they are putting their partners at risk.
  • Many people think you can only transmit herpes when you have active herpes blisters or sores. This is a misconception – you can still pass on herpes if you don’t have any symptoms.
  • Using condoms will reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, but does not offer complete protection.
  • Herpes is not present in the blood. People with genital herpes can still donate blood. Genital herpes is only passed through direct skin-to-skin contact, both orally and genitally.
  • Herpes is not spread through sharing communal facilities. People with genital herpes or cold sores are able to use the same showers, toilets, washing machines and swimming pools as anyone else, without worrying about passing on the herpes infection.

what herpes is NOT

  • Shingles (herpes zoster) is not a sexually transmitted infection. Shingles is caused by a different virus called the varicella zoster virus (VZV) – the same virus that causes chickenpox.
  • Genital herpes is not associated with cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer. These are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is unrelated to the herpes virus.