Genital herpes

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There are two types of herpes virus: one that primarily affects the mouth and one that only affects the genitals. Read this article to find out how to protect yourself and what to do if you are infected.

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It is possible to be a carrier of the herpes virus without having genital herpes, as the virus is of two types: type 1 (primarily around the mouth and, more rarely, around the genitals) and type 2 (genital herpes only).


Type 1

  • According to the WHO, it affects approximately 67% of the world’s population aged 50 or under. Thus, it is a very common virus, even if most of those infected experience no symptoms.
  • It primarily affects the mouth and manifests through what are commonly called cold sores.
  • Type 1 herpes is especially contagious when an outbreak occurs (a cold sore). It is transmitted by oral contact (i.e. kissing, drinking from the same glass, using the same utensil, etc.).
  • A carrier of type 1 herpes may also contaminate their partner’s genitals by practising unprotected oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, anilingus). As a result, they may be at risk of developing genital herpes. 


Type 2

  • Much less common than type 1 herpes, the type 2 variant is the primary cause of genital herpes.
  • It affects the genitals and is very rarely transmitted to the mouth.


People can have genital herpes without presenting any symptoms and may thus transmit it inadvertently. Herpes cannot be cured. Once infected (by type 1 or type 2), the virus stays in the body for life.



Genital herpes is transmitted during unprotected sexual relations with an infected person (with or without symptoms). However, transmission risks are higher when the infected person is experiencing an outbreak. It may be transmitted through:


  • Oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, or anilingus)
  • Vaginal penetration (penis penetrating the vagina)
  • Anal penetration (penis penetrating the anus)
  • The sharing of sex toys


Herpes can also spread to other bodily regions that have been in contact with an outbreak (for example, if you rub your eyes after touching a sore). 


A mother can also transmit the infection to their baby during labour.  



In many cases genital herpes may not provoke any symptoms, and as a result, it is possible to transmit it without knowing you’re infected. 


People that have symptoms will have their first outbreak of herpes sores within an average of 6 days following contact with an infected person2. Remember that you may have few symptoms during an outbreak, and that the latter may not be noticeable.


According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, an infected person with symptoms may experience the following signs during the first outbreak of herpes:


  • Painful lesions resembling blisters or a cluster of pimples around the genitals or anus
  • Itching around the genitals
  • Groin pain caused by swollen lymph nodes
  • Flu-like symptoms


These symptoms should disappear on their own within 1 to 3 weeks. However, you will remain a carrier of the virus even if you no longer have any symptoms. If in doubt, you can contact Info-Santé (811) or get tested.


You may also have other herpes outbreaks during your lifetime. It is impossible to know whether you will have any or when they will occur. However, it has been noted that people with herpes are more susceptible to experiencing outbreaks in periods of stress or fatigue, when their bodies are already weakened by another illness, or when they have been in the sunlight for too long. 


Testing and Treatment 🔍

Genital herpes can be detected during a medical examination by taking a sample from a lesion or by taking a blood sample. 


There is currently no cure for genital herpes. However, certain kinds of medicine may help alleviate symptoms during outbreaks.



In order to avoid being infected with, or transmitting genital herpes, you can use a condom during fellatio as well as vaginal or anal penetration, and a dental dam during cunnilingus or anilingus. Also, avoid sharing sex toys. Furthermore, avoid oral sex and kissing if you or your partner is experiencing an outbreak. 


If you’re infected with genital herpes, you may also detect the moment when you feel a burning or prickling sensation. This may be a sign that a herpes outbreak is imminent. At such times, you should avoid sexual contact, since the virus is most infectious during outbreaks. It should be noted that you are not completely immune when wearing a condom or dental dam, since they do not cover every potentially infected body part (mouth, thighs, buttocks, etc.). Wait several days after the lesions have healed before resuming sexual relations.


However, keep in mind that you can still be infectious despite not showing any symptoms. You should tell your partners if you have genital herpes so that they can get tested and thus avoid transmitting it to others. 


Sources: Public Health Agency of Canada; The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada; CATIE; Gouvernement du Québec

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