Doc Q: Everything you didn’t know about herpes explained


In my job, I get to see a lot of STIs! Whenever I see someone with a first hit of herpes I’m always reminded of the massive stigma behind it. There are a lot of myths about herpes. If you think you know about herpes, think again!

Dr Rhys Young is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and has a special interest in LGBTQ+ individual & family health. He believes in the importance of good sexual health, STI screening & prevention, including PrEP prescribing.

Let’s start with the basics

Herpes simplex is the virus that causes a skin condition known as cold sores (on the face), whitlows (on fingers) or ‘herpes’ when it’s on your junk or other skin areas. The symptoms of genital herpes can vary enormously! It often shows up as clusters of little blisters or sores, but it can also just produce a mild rash. Some people find it sore or irritating, but lots of people might not even notice it. If you’re having sex, then you can get the herpes virus. Any sexual activity will do it, it’s not about being clean or dirty.

Give me the stats, Doc

A lot of people don’t realise that herpes is super common. As many as one in three adults has the herpes virus. The tricky part is that most don’t even realise. Around 80% of people infected with genital herpes don’t know they have the herpes virus because they have mild symptoms or none at all. So if you’re looking for someone to blame for passing on herpes, forget about it: 75% of people with genital herpes get it from people entirely unaware that they have it.

But don’t you have it for life?

The herpes virus does like to stick around. Actually, it’s just like a sister from another mister: the chickenpox virus! Now, just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s going to pop out and say g’day each week. A lot of people don’t have more than one outbreak. If you get outbreaks frequently, see your GP about suppressive therapy.

Talking to your sexual partners

There are no black and white rules about disclosing that you have had herpes. Some people I talk to choose not to tell their casual partners. They don’t have sex during an outbreak and practice safe sex by using condoms. This is totally safe practice. When it comes to a more regular or long term partner, you might experience some anxiety or stress from not talking about it. In the long term, more people are accepted by new partners than rejected for having genital herpes. And if someone wants to judge you for something like this, then that’s a great red flag right there!

Hey Doc, I’ve got this rash…

So the next time you get this burning sensation and look down to see a garden of little blisters sprouting, best to check in with your GP. The quicker, the better. If we can start medication within the first 72 hours we have a good chance of clearing the outbreak quickly. And if you’re living with herpes and it’s impacting your sex life, relationships or mental health, check in with your GP or sexual health clinic. We have plenty of options to try!

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