Our convenient genital herpes service allows you to order a prescription for genital herpes treatment without seeing a GP.
We offer prescriptions for aciclovir or valaciclovir for:
Acute therapy: for current outbreaks
Suppressive therapy: for chronic herpes with frequent outbreaks.
Our online doctor will check whether the treatment you would like to order is suitable for you before your prescription is issued to a local pharmacy in Ireland, or you can choose to have your medication delivered directly to your door.
A consultation for genital herpes treatment prescription costs €21.50.
Genital Herpes Treatment
What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is an infection caused by the cold sore virus called herpes simplex virus or HSV. The symptoms are sores and blisters on and around the genitals. It can be very painful. As you can get genital herpes by having sex or from intimate sexual contact, it is known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). HSV can infect any mucus membrane in the body, like the mouth, for example.
Genital herpes is a chronic long-term condition. Unfortunately, there is no cure, but it is possible to manage the symptoms using antiviral medicines. Once you get the herpes virus, it stays in your body, lying dormant, before it becomes active again. People often find that they have recurring outbreaks four or five times in the first couple of years after getting infected with HSV. As time goes by, however, most people have fewer outbreaks and the outbreaks become much less severe.
There are two types of genital herpes: herpes simplex virus type 1 and herpes simplex virus type 2. Both are extremely contagious. The virus is passed from person to person by physical contact (vaginal, anal or oral sex). Even if someone with the virus has no symptoms, it is still possible for the virus to be passed on. This is known as asymptomatic shedding. Often people carry the virus for a while before an outbreak is triggered.
How does genital herpes treatment work?
Antiviral tablets stop the herpes simplex virus multiplying. Treatment options include aciclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir. Aciclovir is the most prescribed oral herpes treatment. Antivirals will not get the virus out of your system completely, but they keep it under control.
After herpes treatment, what should I expect?
Remember that, as long as you keep them clean, the blisters/sores will scab and heal with time. They will not leave a scar. If this is your first herpes outbreak, you can expect to have four or five outbreaks over the next couple of years. These are known as recurrent outbreaks. They are usually much less severe than the first outbreak. Over time recurrent outbreaks become increasingly infrequent and milder. If you are concerned or distressed, speak to your doctor.
Genital herpes symptoms:
- Painful red blisters that burst leaving open sores near your genitals, rectum, thighs and buttocks, or blisters/ulcers on the cervix
- A high temperature or fever
- Pain during urination
- Vaginal discharge
- Feeling unwell with aches and pains or flu-like symptoms.
The sores will scab and heal with time. They will not leave a scar.
When the first outbreak clears up, the virus lies dormant in a nearby nerve. A recurrent outbreak of the virus can be triggered later, when the virus travels back down the nerve to the skin.
Most people find that they have recurrent outbreaks four or five times in the first couple of years after getting infected with HSV. Recurrent outbreaks are usually much less severe and will continue to get easier with time. This is because your body has produced antibodies to deal with the first infection and is better equipped to fight recurrent infections of the same virus.
The main symptoms of recurrent outbreaks begin with a sensation that itches, burns or tingles near, on or around your genitals, or down your leg, before the blisters come out. Next, sore red blisters will appear around your genitals, rectum, thighs and buttocks. In women, they might also appear on the cervix (neck of the womb).
What causes genital herpes?
Herpes (HSV) is a virus. Whenever HSV is on the skin, it can be passed to another person. It is passed between people by direct skin-to-skin contact, including sex. You can also catch it if you share sex toys (without washing them or covering them with a new condom each time they are used).
Herpes is very contagious and can pass through the moist lining of your genitals, anus and mouth very easily. If you have oral sex with someone who has a cold sore (a blister/lesion on their mouth that is also caused by the herpes simplex virus), you can get herpes on your genitals.
HSV cannot live for a very long time outside the human body. This is why it is assumed you cannot catch herpes by sharing baths or using swimming pools, using a toilet seat, or from sharing plates/cups/cutlery. However, you should avoid sharing towels or flannels just in case. While it is unlikely that the virus could survive this way, this is an extra precaution that you can take to avoid infection.
What types of herpes are there?
There are two types of herpes: herpes simplex virus type 1 and herpes simplex virus type 2. Both can cause genital herpes. The virus is passed from person to person by physical contact. Usually, people get infected with genital herpes by having sex (vaginal, anal or oral). Even if someone has no symptoms, they can still pass on the virus. This is known as asymptomatic shedding. Often people carry the virus for a while, before their first outbreak is triggered. After the first outbreak, the virus retreats into your system and stays dormant, until something triggers a recurrent outbreak.
What can trigger an outbreak of the disease?
There is not a huge amount known about the causes of recurrent outbreaks, but existing evidence suggests that the following are common triggers:
- Not feeling well generally
- Drinking alcohol heavily
- Being exposed to ultraviolet light – by using sunbeds, for example
- Having surgery on your genitals or the surrounding area
- Having a weakened immune system, (due to chemotherapy or similar)
Who gets genital herpes?
Genital herpes is common in young people aged 20-24 years, but anyone can get it. Whenever HSV is on the skin, it can be passed to another person. It is passed between people by direct skin-to-skin contact, including sex. You can also catch it if you share sex toys (without washing them or covering them with a new condom each time they are used).
However, you are at a higher risk of getting herpes if you:
- have had a sexually transmitted infection in the past
- started having sex young
- have had sex that was unprotected with many partners
How is genital herpes diagnosed?
Wherever possible, it is better to get any symptoms of genital herpes checked at a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic/sexual health clinic. If you cannot get to a GUM clinic, then see your GP.
It is easier for your GUM specialists to diagnose genital herpes, while you have got the blisters or sores. They will do a swab test (where they wipe a small cotton bud on one of the blisters to collect fluid from it).
While it is easier to test for herpes when the infection is active, sometimes the test can still be negative, even though you have all the symptoms. For this reason, the GUM specialist will also examine you and make a diagnosis based on what they see. If they are unsure and if the test is also negative, then you may have to wait to see if you have a recurrent outbreak to confirm whether the diagnosis should be herpes.
At the GUM clinic, you will probably be asked:
- if you have had sexually transmitted infections in the past
- about your history of sexual partners
- whether you get cold sores
- whether or not this is the first time you have had these symptoms
How do I treat it and what are the main herpes treatment options?
The treatment for herpes is slightly different for the first outbreak and any subsequent outbreaks. The first time you have a herpes outbreak, your sexual health clinic can prescribe antiviral tablets, such as aciclovir, to stop the herpes simplex virus multiplying. This oral genital herpes treatment will not get the virus out of your system completely, but it can control it.
For recurrent outbreaks, speak to your GP, because your treatment plan will depend on the severity and frequency of the outbreaks. If you have fewer than 6 recurrent outbreaks a year, but these are severe, your doctor may prescribe a five-day course of aciclovir (or another antiviral) each time you have an outbreak. This is called episodic treatment.
If you have six or more recurrent outbreaks a year, you may need to take aciclovir (or another antiviral) daily on an ongoing basis as part of a treatment plan. This is suppressive genital herpes treatment – it aims to stop outbreaks happening at all.
There are also a few things that you can try at home, to make yourself a bit more comfortable:
- Keep the blisters/sores clean with water or salt water. This will help it to heal quicker and will prevent the areas where you have blisters from sticking together.
- Put cold, wet tea bags or an ice pack that is wrapped in a cloth over the sores. This helps to soothe the pain. Make sure you do not put ice directly onto the sores.
- Put Vaseline or petroleum jelly over the sores – this will reduce the pain you experience when you urinate. You can also reduce this pain by drinking a lot of fluids to dilute your urine. If this is a problem for you, you can also try urinating sitting in a bath of water or tipping water over your genitals while you urinate.
- Try not to wear tight clothing because this can aggravate the blisters.
If you are still extremely uncomfortable, your doctor can also prescribe a lidocaine gel that you can use to numb the pain in the affected area.
Genital Herpes Treatment Options - how effective are they?
The first time you have a herpes outbreak, your sexual health clinic can prescribe antiviral tablets, to stop the herpes simplex virus multiplying. Antiviral drugs that can be used to manage herpes simplex include:
Aciclovir is the most prescribed antiviral for herpes. You will need to take aciclovir five times a day, for at least five days or longer if you are still getting new blisters when you begin the course of treatment. It will not get the virus out of your system completely, but can control it. When you stop taking aciclovir, it will stop having an effect.
Valaciclovir is known as a pro-drug. It is very similar to aciclovir. After you take Valaciclovir, your body converts it into aciclovir. It has the same effect, but you do not need to remember to take valaciclovir as frequently as aciclovir.
For recurrent outbreaks, speak to your GP, because your treatment plan will depend on the severity and frequency of the outbreaks.
If you have fewer than 6 recurrent outbreaks a year, but these are severe, your doctor may prescribe a five-day course of aciclovir (or another antiviral) each time you have an outbreak. This is called episodic treatment.
If you have six or more recurrent outbreaks a year, you may need to take aciclovir (or another antiviral) daily on an ongoing basis as part of a treatment plan. This is suppressive treatment – it aims to stop outbreaks happening at all.
Usually for suppressive genital herpes treatment, you take aciclovir twice daily for 6-12 months (or another antiviral as prescribed). This is also the case for people with very severe symptoms. It makes it less likely that you will pass HSV on to your partner (although it does not prevent this completely).
Normally, suppressive treatment would stop after a year because, by that point, the risk of outbreaks is less frequent and the outbreaks themselves will be considerably milder. Most people manage to control any subsequent outbreaks using episodic treatment (a five-day course of aciclovir), but if the severe outbreaks come back repeatedly, you can speak to your doctor about returning to a suppressive herpes treatment plan.
What are the long-term issues?
Genital herpes is a chronic long term condition. Unfortunately, there is no cure, but it is possible to manage the symptoms using antiviral medicines. If the herpes blisters get infected, they can result in a skin infection elsewhere in your body. If you are suffering recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes, it is wise to get tested for HIV. Severe and frequent outbreaks of genital herpes can be a sign of a weak immune system.
If you have HIV or AIDS, or if you are undergoing chemotherapy, or if you have a weakened immune system, you should be referred to a specialist for treatment. Herpes can last longer and be more severe in people with weak immune systems.
Herpes can cause problems in pregnancy. If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, make sure you get referred to a specialist. The infection could pass to your unborn baby and it can be serious.
Should I tell my sexual partner(s)?
Yes, you need to let your sexual partners know so they get tested. If you do not feel comfortable contacting them yourself, your sexual health clinic can contact them for you. They can send them a contact slip suggesting that they might have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection and recommending that they go for a check-up. Your name will not be on the slip, although sometimes it states which infection they might have picked up.
You should also tell new partners that you have genital herpes. You can pass on the herpes virus, even if you do not have symptoms, so it is very important to use condoms to minimise the risk of spreading the infection when having any kind of sex (oral, vaginal or anal). It is worth bearing in mind though, that it is still possible to pass on the virus during sex, even if you use condoms. The condom only covers the penis, and the herpes virus can appear elsewhere (around or on the genitals). For this reason, condoms may reduce the risk but they will not prevent the virus from spreading completely. Your partner needs to be aware of this.
When can I have sex again?
Do not have sex until all the blisters and sores have completely healed and cleared up.
If you have sex while you have got the sores, you are very likely to pass on the virus. Herpes is extremely contagious, even from the point that you feel the first tingle/itch, before you get any blisters.
Do not share sex toys (unless you wash them and cover them with a condom in between usage). Also, if you have/your partner has a cold sore on the mouth, avoid kissing until this has cleared up.
Do not have oral sex while one of you has a cold sore. This is one of the ways you can get genital herpes.
Will it affect my fertility?
No. Genital herpes does not affect fertility in men or women.
Herpes can cause problems in pregnancy though. If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, make sure you get referred to a specialist. The infection could pass to your unborn baby and it can be serious.
How do you treat your first outbreak?
With the first genital herpes outbreak, your sores and blisters may last from about 10 days up to 28 days. You will usually start with a five-day course treatment of antiviral medication (Aciclovir or Valaciclovir), which should improve your symptoms, but if you are still getting new symptoms you can continue the tablets for 10 days. The earlier you start treatment, the quicker your symptoms will improve.
How do you treat repeat herpes outbreaks?
Repeat outbreaks of genital herpes are usually milder and last for about 7 to 10 days. Usually, with mild outbreaks, you can use over-the-counter medications like pain killers and ointments (lidocaine) to improve the symptoms.
But when the symptoms are more serious, and you get them less than six times a year, you can use antiviral medication to treat the outbreak. There are 2 different ways to treat repeat outbreaks:
- You could take a higher dosage of treatment for one or two days to help improve your symptoms. This has a higher chance of causing side effects. The number of days you take the course for depends on which medication you choose.
- You could also take lower-dosage treatment for across a longer period (about 5 days) to help improve the symptoms. This has a lower risk of side effects
How does suppressive treatment work?
Some people may have regular, more serious outbreaks of genital herpes, more than six times a year. In this case, you could get a low-dose antiviral treatment, which you would take daily for about 6 or 12 months. This is known as ‘suppressive therapy’ and it helps to either stop the outbreaks completely or make symptoms less serious.
If you use this treatment, you would be asked to stop afterwards to see if your outbreaks happen less often and are less serious. If the outbreaks have not improved, you may be offered another long-term, daily dose of antiviral medication.
Are there home remedies for herpes?
You can also try the following home remedies to help you manage your symptoms during a herpes outbreak:
- Get over-the-counter painkillers to help ease the pain
- You can also get numbing ointments (5% lidocaine) from your local pharmacy to help relieve itching and pain
- Try to keep the area clean, using plain or salt water to prevent blisters becoming infected
- Ice wrapped in a tea towel (an ice pack) placed over the sores for 5-10 minutes may be soothing, but do not put ice directly on your skin because it can cause ‘ice burn’
- Avoid wearing tight clothing that may irritate blisters or sores
- Drink plenty of water to help dilute your urine and make it less painful when peeing. Applying Vaseline or petroleum jelly can also help ease the pain when urinating
- Avoid scented soaps and bubble baths which may cause irritation
- Avoid herbal remedies not approved by a medical professional because they may not have been proven to work, and may not be regulated, so they may not be safe to use
If you’re having trouble with your symptoms, or getting outbreaks more than 6 times a year, we recommend thinking about medical treatment instead of just home remedies.
HIV and herpes treatment
If you have genital herpes and you are living with HIV, you should speak with a medical professional. Your herpes infection may become more serious because of the way HIV affects your immune system.
Pregnancy and herpes treatment
If you have genital herpes during pregnancy, you should get medical advice because the infection could pass to your unborn baby and cause a condition known as neonatal herpes. However, this can also be treated with antiviral medication.
Protecting against genital herpes
There is currently no vaccine against the herpes virus, and no permanent cure either. So, you should be careful when having sexual intercourse with your partner(s).
When you have symptoms for herpes, there is a high chance you could pass the virus on if you have sex. It is better to stop having sex from when you first notice the symptoms of a herpes outbreak, until they are fully over.
If you do have sex, you should use a condom, but it may not fully protect against passing the virus on, because it may not cover all the areas with sores.
If you have herpes but you are currently not showing any symptoms, you are less likely to pass on the infection during sex. Sometimes the virus can be there on the skin, even if there are no symptoms; this is called ‘shedding’. It does not happen with everyone, but it is more likely to happen in the first year after you get the infection, or if you have a lot of outbreaks. It is better to tell your partner(s) about your herpes infection and use a condom each time you have sex to help reduce the chance of passing the virus on.
Taking antiviral medication (suppressive treatment) long-term to prevent repeat infections can also reduce the risk of passing on the virus from shedding.
Available treatment options
For genital herpes, antiviral medication is usually recommended. The three main types are:
You can also get over-the-counter medications, like painkillers and a numbing ointment (5% lidocaine gel) from any pharmacy to help relieve the itching during repeated outbreaks of herpes.
How to get testing and treatment
If you would like to place an order for one of our genital herpes home test kits or genital herpes antiviral treatment prescription, you can follow the steps below:
- Fill out a short online assessment form
- Place an order for a genital herpes test kit or treatment prescription
- Your order will be checked and approved if appropriate
- It can then be posted to your preferred address or you can collect it from a local Post Office or pharmacy instead
Common side effects of treatment
Like most medications, you may get some common side effects when taking genital herpes antiviral medications. These include:
- Feeling sick
- Stomach pain
- Skin rashes
Mayo Clinic (2019). Genital Herpes. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20356167 [accessed 6th March 2019].
National Health Service (2019). Genital Herpes. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/genital-herpes/ [accessed 6th March 2019].
Patient.info (2019). Genital Herpes. [online] Available at: https://patient.info/sexual-health/sexually-transmitted-infections-leaflet/genital-herpes#nav-3 [accessed 6th March 2019].