Herpes is a common virus that can cause cold sores round the mouth or in the genital area.

How you get it

Through unprotected (condomless) vaginal or anal penetrative sex, oral sex or other genital skin to skin contact. Cold sores round the mouth can be passed to the partners genital area.


Not everyone will get symptoms. A first attack may make you feel very unwell with flu-like symptoms with painful blisters around the genital area. It may be very painful to pee.


At present, the only way of confirming that you have herpes is by taking a swab from a blister or sore in the lip or genital areas. This will confirm the diagnosis and indicate which type of herpes is causing the problem. You can get tested at a sexual health clinic or at your GP. A blood test for herpes in people who don't have symptoms is available but it is rarely needed and isn't part of a routine sexual health check.


A course of tablets and/or ointment if symptoms are bad. There’s no cure, and the blisters may come back, but the first outbreak is usually the worst, and often they don’t come back at all.​


The best way to avoid becoming infected with herpes is to use a condom during vaginal, anal and oral sex.

Reduce the risk of a condom bursting by:

  • making sure it's properly unrolled

  • squeezing the air out of the 'teat' before putting it on

  • keeping your fingernails short and smooth

  • using lube suitable for use with condoms

  • never using oils, oil-based lubricants, or oily foodstuffs during sex


The risks from oral sex can be reduced if you:

  • always use a fresh condom

  • avoid oral sex if there are any signs of infection

  • avoid oral sex if the person giving it has any cuts or sores in their mouth

My sexual partner has herpes, and I have symptoms that feel similar – what should I do?

Herpes is easiest to diagnose during an attack. If you are worried about the symptoms, go to a walk-in clinic at the beginning of an attack. If the symptoms are not worrying you, you don’t need to do anything.

My sexual partner has herpes but I don’t have any symptoms – what should I do?

If you don’t have significant discomfort or pain from herpes, no treatment is required.

© 2019 Know Your Risk: Testing Week Scotland