Getting diagnosed with genital herpes
- Do I have herpes?
- Do I have to see my GP before I can go to a clinic?
- Will details of my diagnosis be sent to my GP?
About herpes simplex virus
- What is herpes simplex?
- What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
- How long will it take for symptoms of genital herpes to appear?
- How common is herpes simplex?
- What is the difference between the two herpes simplex types?
- What are the other herpes viruses?
Passing on/transmitting herpes
- How is herpes simplex caught and passed on?
- Can I spread the herpes simplex around my body?
- Can my partner catch herpes again it again if he or she already has it?
- How can I have caught it if my partner doesn’t have it?
- Can I pass herpes simplex to a partner if I have no symptoms?
- Can using a condom prevent transmission of herpes simplex?
- Can I catch herpes simplex off towels, cups, or anything?
- Can my children catch herpes from me?
- Can genital herpes be caught from a cold sore?
- Risk of transmission between recurrences (asymptomatic shedding)
Herpes recurrences explained
Treating genital herpes
- Does herpes need to be treated (first infection)?
- What is the usual treatment for genital herpes?
- What can I do to stop discomfort and speed up healing?
- I sometimes get odd feelings/pains around my buttocks or down one or other leg. What does this mean?
- What are recurrences of herpes and how likely are they?
- What can I do to prevent frequent herpes recurrences?
Pregnancy and childbirth
Other herpes questions
- Does herpes mean I have a greater risk of cervical cancer?
- Can I give blood now I have herpes?
- Is herpes simplex ever serious?
- Where can I get answers to my other questions?
Do I have herpes?
The only way to find out what is causing a genital problem is to go to a clinic or doctor. We recommend that you attend a sexual health clinic or department of genitourinary medicine. There is probably one at your local hospital. Often, you won’t need to make an appointment, but if you do have to, tell them you think it is genital herpes – then they may see you sooner because it can only be diagnosed while you have symptoms. Ring the hospital for the address and clinic times – or search the list of clinics you can find here.
It is only possible to diagnose herpes simplex when symptoms are present so don’t delay. Do not apply creams (e.g. Vaseline or Sudocrem) to the area before attending the clinic as the doctors may need to take a swab from some of the lesions and the chemicals might interfere. Often, an experienced medical professional will be able to say that it looks like genital herpes. This is called a ‘clinical diagnosis’ (that is ‘a diagnosis made by a clinician’). A swab should be taken from the area of the infection and tested to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes, if the swab is negative but the symptoms suggest herpes simplex, a doctor may arrange a blood test to assist in reaching a diagnosis. Urine tests are not used to diagnose genital herpes. Beware, these may be offered inappropriately by private testing services.
Do I have to see my GP before I can go to a clinic?
No, you can arrange this yourself.
Will details of my diagnosis be sent to my GP?
No. Your visit to the clinic is confidential. The clinic may ask for your doctor’s details but this is simply to allow internal charging within the NHS. If you have attended with a letter from your GP, the clinic will wish to write back to the GP explaining the diagnosis and the test results but a letter will not be sent to your GP without your expressed permission.
What is herpes simplex?
Herpes simplex is the name given to two viruses in a family of herpes viruses all of which, once caught, remain in the body. The two viruses are:
- Herpes simplex virus: type 1 and type 2. Both types can cause symptoms on the genitals (genital herpes), the face (facial cold sores), or the hand or finger (called a herpetic whitlow).
What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Symptoms may start with itching, tingling, soreness and discomfort in the area affected. There can also be general flu-like symptoms with backache, headache, temperature, aching and mild swelling of the lymph glands in the groin, armpits and neck. On ordinary skin (e.g. under pubic hair, or on the shaft of the penis or scrotum, on the fingers, hands or other parts of the body), you are likely to get blisters, spots or red bumps which may be quite painful. These burst and form sores, raw spots or ulcers which will crust over and new skin will form as they heal. On mucous membrane, (e.g. under the foreskin and on the inner side of vaginal lips), the virus causes ulcers which heal directly into new skin. You will not normally have any scarring, although the new skin may be paler for a while.
This first episode may last from 2 to 3 weeks. It will appear on the area of your skin that has been in contact with the other person’s skin. Some people get recurrences – these are not like the first illness. Because the body now has specific antibodies to fight this virus, repeat outbreaks usually heal much more quickly (often in only in a few days). They are usually mild and seldom involve the flu-like symptoms. A few people get frequent recurrences. If you are one of these people we suggest you look at antiviral treatment and self-help suggestions.
How long will it take for symptoms of genital herpes to appear?
It usually takes two to fourteen days after contact for the first symptoms of genital herpes to appear, with 4 to 5 days being the most common incubation period. Some people never catch it. Others catch it but show no symptoms. It can appear for the first time years after you caught it. This means that it can turn up unexpectedly in a long-term faithful relationship. This is why herpes simplex is not proof of infidelity. About four out of five people get no clear symptoms when first infected. There is more in our transmission leaflet – free to members when they join.
How common is herpes simplex?
Very common. About six out of ten people in the UK carry type 1 and about one in ten carries type 2, more in the sexually active population. Most facial cold sores are caused by type 1. Herpes simplex on the genitals may be type 1 or type 2. If this seems like a lot, it is because most people who have it don’t know, they have no symptoms or they get such mild symptoms, they do not notice. Each year the number of new people diagnosed by sexual health services is recorded by Public Health England. It is over 30,000 – see the data stis2014. And we know that a further 1.4 cases are diagnosed by each GP in the country- say about 75,000 cases. [Survey by Dr P Woolley].
What is the difference between the two herpes simplex types?
They are genetically slightly different but cause similar symptoms. The only difference is that – type 1 is more likely to reappear when it is caught on the face and is less likely to recur when it is caught on the genitals; – type 2 is more likely to recur when affecting the genitals. There is no difference in the visible symptoms caused by the two types, so it is only possible to establish which type you have caught through a laboratory test. Both viruses are called herpes simplex virus.
What are the other herpes viruses?
- Varicella-zoster virus (also called herpes zoster). This causes chickenpox and shingles which are occasionally mistaken for herpes simplex. Shingles is a recurrence of chickenpox and in the elderly it may cause painful nerve damage.
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein Barr virus, also called glandular fever. These viruses do not cause spots or blisters like herpes simplex. They may cause flu-like illnesses.
- And four others: humanherpes viruses 6, 6a, 7 and 8.
People ask “What does herpes do to you?” What does herpes do to my body?” “I have herpes, now what?” The answers to those questions are: Herpes simplex does nothing to your body or your overall health. It causes spots, which admittedly can be painful, and if they come often then they are very annoying… Now what? Well, if it were on your face, you would not be asking that question. You can make a big deal of it, there are websites that suggest you have to. However, the HVA experience is that people can get over it and move on to live happily ever after.
How is herpes simplex caught and passed on?
The virus is passed directly from the affected area of skin, by direct skin to skin contact, with friction, when the virus is present. It enters easily through mucous membranes, i.e. the moist skin inside the mouth and genital-anal area. Sometimes it gets into ordinary skin, on other parts of the body, but there needs to be a cut or break in the skin. This can be the fingers/hands, knees, etc., if these come into direct contact with the affected area of another person. A finger sore is called a whitlow.
You can pass it on when the virus is present on the skin surface of the affected area: from the first warning signs that a recurrence is starting (tingles, burning skin sensations, aches, stabbing pains), through the time when there are sores or blisters, until they have healed and fresh skin has grown back. There is also a slight possibility that virus may be transmitted through asymptomatic shedding which can occur between outbreaks. You can get the transmission leaflet – free to members – when you join. Another useful resource is the Herpes Simplex – the Guide booklet: 16 page, 6,000 words.
About six in ten adults carry herpes simplex virus type 1 and one in ten carries type 2. Only around one in five of those infected – with either type – is aware of this. [BASHH] It is rare for people to catch a virus that they already have a second time – even in different parts of the body. The virus does not travel through the body. So a person with a genital infection can kiss or perform oral sex – there is no risk of infecting a partner; the virus will not travel inside the body from the genitals to the mouth.
Can I spread herpes simplex around my body?
It is extremely uncommon to reinfect yourself with herpes virus on other parts of your own body after the first episode. Even during this first outbreak, the infection is usually limited to one part of the body. Some people will catch it in two places, for instance they may get it on their hands, as well as on the genitals, since hands can be involved in sexual activity. If you have caught it in more than one place, you will notice during your first outbreak.
Can my partner catch herpes again if he or she already has it?
If you and your partner have the same virus you will not reinfect each other – even on a different part of the body.
- If you have caught a genital infection from a partner’s facial cold sores, they will not catch the virus back on their genitals.
- If you have caught it on your face from your partner’s facial cold sores then they will not catch it on their genitals from you.
See transmission leaflet free to members. If your new partner has had facial cold sores in the past, this either means that they have the same virus as you, or will have the other type (there are only two types of herpes simplex). When you both have the same type, it is highly unlikely that either of you will reinfect the other. If you have different types and either of you catches a second type, symptoms will probably be slight or non-existent. This is because the antibodies for one type will have some immediate effect on the other type as well. This is called ‘partial protection’. An antibody test (testing a blood sample) might show that this is the case. Members can request our leaflet explaining what an antibody type test can do. [More info...]
How can I have caught genital herpes if my partner doesn’t have it?
Your partner might have it and not know. Four out of five of the people with herpes simplex have it so mildly they do not realise they have it. So they may have sex when the virus is active. Mild symptoms can appear as a pimple, a little cut or an itchy bit of skin and yet be very infectious, and are often more sensitive or painful than you would expect. When people with these mild symptoms learn to recognise them, then they can avoid sex at these times. They are often much more sensitive or painful than such small conditions should be. When people with these mild symptoms learn to recognise them, then they can avoid sex at these times. Another possibility is that your partner does not have herpes simplex and you caught it from a previous partner. It is perfectly possible to have an outbreak a long time after first catching it.
Can I pass herpes simplex to a partner if I have no symptoms?
When the virus is inactive (dormant) inside the nerve cells it cannot be caught by a partner. If there is virus on the place where you get your symptoms, it may be passed on – see What is asymptomatic shedding? There may be a tingly or itchy feeling at the place where this is happening.
Can using a condom prevent transmission of genital herpes?
Yes it can make a big difference. Herpes simplex cannot get through a condom, so using one is a good idea as long as it is put on the penis before genitals touch. If the virus is active on the skin outside the area protected by the condom, transmission may still happen. A Femidom (female condom) covers a wider area so may be more useful for some people. If you have obvious genital symptoms it is best for an uninfected partner to avoid contact with that area until they have healed.
Can I catch herpes simplex off towels, cups, or anything?
No, you will not catch it off anything. The virus is caught from the skin, not from objects. It is a delicate virus and dies quickly when away from the skin where the sore is. There is more about transmission in our “Transmission” leaflet -available to members.
Can my children catch herpes from me?
Parents do not need to worry about passing on genital herpes to their children in the course of daily life. Expert doctors are quite clear about this. But, because there is no risk, parents cannot find anything authoritative that tells them that there is no risk to children, and they can end up taking all sorts of unnecessary precautions. (See here for pregnancy and childbirth – which is a different issue.)
- Parents do not pass on genital herpes to their children through any normal activities of family life. Do not allow a fear of transmission to get in the way of ordinary family touching, hugging, sharing, etc.
- Beds: herpes simplex virus is never transmitted on the sheets
- Washing clothes in the same machine load is fine, even when a person has a recurrence.
- Bathing or showering together will not transmit herpes simplex virus – the same is true for jacuzzis and swimming pools. A child brushing against your upper thighs or abdomen while you have a recurrence won’t catch the virus.
- If you have used the toilet or you have touched the genital area and forgotten to wash your hands, this is not a problem. This virus is fragile and dies when it leaves living cells.
- Washing with ordinary soap and water is clean enough – there’s no need to use any special hand or toilet seat sanitisers.
Children do all sorts of odd things that you can’t anticipate, but even if they put your worn knickers on their head they are not going to contract the herpes virus – relax and laugh with them. (We thank the New Zealand Herpes Foundation for this last example!)
Can genital herpes be caught from a cold sore?
Yes, if a person with a cold sore on the mouth does oral sex he or she can give his/her partner ‘cold sores on the genitals’ which is genital herpes. Also, cold sores on the face may be caught from someone with genital herpes through oral sex. Only the face is infectious in a person with cold sores – so they can have sex, but not kiss or do oral sex when they have a cold sore. See the description of the two types.
Risk of infection between recurrences (asymptomatic shedding).
Studies have shown that virus may be found on an infected area, even when there are no visible symptoms. This is called asymptomatic shedding. If enough virus is present when direct skin contact (sexual contact) takes place, a partner may become infected. Studies have shown that a majority of people catch it from someone who does not know that he or she is infected.
- The fewer recurrences a person has, the less chance there is of asymptomatic shedding.
- Asymptomatic shedding tends to decline with time. It is more likely to be happening in the first year and much less probable after that.
The virus is most often transmitted during the first months of a new relationship; however partners are often together for years without the virus passing from one to the other.
Another useful resource is the Herpes Simplex – the Guide booklet: 16 page, 6,000 words.
I’ve heard it can come back, why?
Between recurrences the virus travels from the skin along the nerve to the nerve ganglion (a junction for several nerves supplying the same area). Here it rests in a dormant/inactive state. Once you have been infected, the virus remains in your body, just as chickenpox and some other viruses do. Recurrent symptoms occur when the virus is reactivated or ‘triggered.’
Recurrent symptoms normally appear in the same area as the first time. But for some people they may shift a short distance, e.g. from genitals to buttocks, but always within the same dermatome (nerve region). Some people feel aching, tingling, burning or sharp pains in the area affected (leg, genitals or buttock) preceding a recurrence. These are called prodromal symptoms or prodromes. They are a sign that the virus is trying to reactivate and there may be virus on the skin surface. Sometimes they last for a few days then disappear without any symptoms appearing on the skin.
How often can genital herpes come back?
Some people get no further episodes, a few get frequent recurrences. A doctor may prescribe antiviral pills that you take for several months to prevent outbreaks – see antiviral treatment, or you can try self-help treatments. There are two pages of suggestions on our “Tips to prevent recurrences” leaflet. It is available to members. Outbreaks normally decline in frequency and severity over time. There are websites with headings like ‘Living with oral herpes’, ‘Living with herpes simplex type 2’ or just ‘Coping with herpes’. We don’t use these phrases. Would anyone expect to read ‘Living with cold sores’? Or ‘Living with shingles’? Or ‘Coping with thrush?’ These phrases seem to be created to dramatise the condition. Granted some people are unlucky with their outbreaks – see below for treatment. Most of us (and our partners) soon realise what a small issue it really is.
Does herpes need to be treated (first infection)?
Treatment can be helpful – particularly if there are severe symptoms. Some people are affected more than others. Herpes simplex infections clear up even if no treatment is given. See below for the rare occasions when it can be serious.
What is the usual treatment for genital herpes?
The doctor may prescribe antiviral tablets to speed up healing and reduce the severity of a first episode. Aciclovir is the most commonly used antiviral drug for this purpose. You don’t need the tablets if the first episode is mild, or if you have almost recovered before you see the doctor. If you get more episodes later on, these are less likely to be treated with antiviral tablets. If you do want to treat outbreaks with antiviral pills, you need to start taking them within 24 hours of noticing the beginning of the outbreak. Started after 24 hours, it is unlikely that the pills with have any useful effect on the outbreak. This means that you should have the pills/prescription already, so that you can start the pills as soon as possible: dosages below. Members can ask for our antiviral drug fact sheet – see subscription form. And we offer self-help suggestions too.
For most people antiviral therapy is not necessary either because their body deals with the virus without help or because they find that adopting a healthier life style does the trick. See What can I do to prevent frequent recurrences? For people who are unlucky and get frequent recurrences, there are two ways that antiviral tablets can be used: Short course therapy, which has to be started within a 24 hours of noticing the start of the symptoms to prevent the outbreak from developing:
- Aciclovir 800 mg three times a day for two days – or
- Valaciclovir (Valtrex) 500 mg twice daily for three days – or
- Famciclovir (Famvir) 1 g twice daily for one day.
Suppression therapy, when the tablets are taken daily to keep the virus dormant – perhaps for six months at a time. This is now known to be an extremely safe drug – so there is no need for normal people to have kidney function test.
- Aciclovir 400 mg twice daily – or
- Aciclovir 200 mg four times a day
- Valaciclovir (Valtrex) 250 mg twice daily (this dose is not available in UK), OR 500 mg daily – or
- Famciclovir (Famvir) 250 mg twice daily.
If breakthrough recurrences occur on standard treatment, the daily dosage should be increased e.g. aciclovir 400 mg three times daily. Be aware that when you stop a long course of tablets, an outbreak 4 or 5 days afterwards often appears. This is not an indication of future frequent recurrences. Most antiviral pills are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. See Professional’s page for more information.
What can I do to stop discomfort and speed up healing?
People with genital herpes have reported to us that these ideas have helped them – these ideas have not been through a medical trial:
- If required, take a painkiller, e.g. co-codamol, ibuprofen, paracetamol or soluble aspirin – they reduce pain and inflammation. (Always follow manufacturers’ instructions.)
- Wash your hands before touching blisters/sores (e.g. when applying medication) as this could introduce bacteria. This could cause an additional infection and delay healing.
- Apply a local anaesthetic ointment, e.g. lidocaine 5% ointment. It can be used on genital or facial sores. Some people prefer a stronger anaesthetic such as Xylocaine 10% spray. Dab on (or spray on) as required to relieve pain, especially before urinating – see below. (These items are all available from a pharmacy without a prescription.) There is a low risk of a negative reaction from these topical anaesthetics. If you find that soreness increases, stop using them.
- Keep the sores moist, you can apply Vaseline (petroleum jelly).
- Keep the area clean: washing gently once a day is sufficient. Many people have found a warm salt water solution (1 teaspoon to 1 pint water) very soothing. Gently bathe the area using cotton wool.
- Avoid scented soap and deodorants. It is best not to use wipes, gel or soap in this area, but if you do, use an unscented brand.
- Avoid over-washing as this can increase irritation and delay healing.
- Dab dry carefully with a tissue after washing or use a hair dryer set at ‘cold’.
- To reduce itching, keep the area as cool as is practical: apply a well wrapped ice pack for up to 90 minutes. DO NOT put ice directly on the skin.
- Women who experience pain when urinating during a first episode can try doing it in the bath or shower, or sitting on the edge of the bath and pouring water over the area. This will dilute the urine and ease discomfort. Or try urinating through a tube or into a bottle to prevent urine coming into contact with the sores. You can put lidocaine ointment on the area about 15 minutes before urinating to anaesthetize the area, or use Vaseline (petroleum jelly) or Orabase on the sore as a barrier.
Do not over-treat the sores – let the skin heal. Symptoms will heal with or without treatment. Beware: Many websites advertise fake ‘treatments’ or even ‘cures’. They may include testimonials and statements by people who claim to be doctors. They are scams. Do not be fooled.
I sometimes get odd feelings/pains around my buttocks or down one leg. What does this mean?
Occasionally, herpes simplex virus can cause ‘burning skin’ sensations, deep aches or sudden twinges in the genital area. When they occur in the thighs or buttocks, they are sometimes compared to ‘sciatica’. These symptoms are called prodromes – or prodromal symptoms. They are a sign that the virus is trying to reactivate and there may be virus on the skin surface. Sometimes sores will follow, but very often your immune response overcomes the virus before visible signs appear. For information on treatment, select “tips to prevent recurrences” on the subscription form.
What are recurrences of herpes and how likely are they?
Recurrences (also called outbreaks) are repeat symptoms (sores, blisters, patches of red skin or tiny splits) at or close to the place where the infection first appeared. They are often fairly minor and may be no more than a small spot that heals in a few days. They may be accompanied by sensations – itches or nerve twinges. They are unlikely to be as severe as first symptoms and may be almost unnoticed. Around half the people diagnosed only get symptoms once so do not expect to get recurrences – wait to see what happens. Recurrences may occur several times a year or can be much less frequent. They usually get milder, heal faster and happen less often as time goes by.
What can I do to prevent frequent recurrences?
There is no need to change your lifestyle or take steps to prevent recurrences until you know whether or not you are going to get any. People with genital herpes have made the following suggestions, based on their own experiences after diagnosis. The HVA cannot confirm that any of them will work for you, but we believe they are worth considering:
- Try not to worry: worry or stress is known to affect the immune system and lower our ability to fight infections. As you learn more about herpes simplex, you will be able to put it in perspective and worry less. Your immune system will benefit from this and you may get fewer outbreaks. (Stress can also be a trigger factor for many other skin conditions, e.g. eczema, psoriasis.)
- Get enough sleep and avoid getting too tired.
- Eat a well balanced, healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
- A modest vitamin E supplement (200 i.u. per day) has been shown to boost immune response.
- Give up smoking and cut down on excessive drinking.
- Take regular exercise: 20 minutes brisk walk each day is a good start.
- Try taking one soluble low dose aspirin each day with food. (For adults only. This is not recommended for people with stomach problems. Talk to your doctor first.)
- Try to avoid causing soreness to genital skin. ‘Skin trauma’ caused by waxing, shaving, thongs, tight trousers, horse or bike riding or even sexual activity may trigger outbreaks.
- If sex is a trigger try using silicone based lubricant (sold to enhance pleasure).
- Avoid direct sunlight or ultraviolet rays from sunbeds on the site of infection, i.e. no nude sunbathing! If you have cold sores (facial herpes simplex), use a sunblock to protect your skin.
- Join SPHERE and ask for the ‘Tips to Prevent Recurrences’ – two sides of A4.
- Talking to someone else who has personal experience of herpes simplex can be helpful. Join the HVA, come to meetings and/or call our helpline: 0845 123 2305. Experience, advice, understanding and useful information are just a call away.
- Come to a London meeting hosted by one of our volunteers – they are informal and open to all – see Events page .
You will see plenty of internet sites offering dubious ‘treatments’ that are unnecessary and probably have no effect. Our “Tips to prevent recurrences” is a two page list of self help suggestions. We also produce leaflets on “Stress”, “Boosting Immunity”, and reports of our trials on “Olive Leaf Extract” and “Eleutherococcus senticosus” (Elagen). Members can order these when they join.
Genital herpes, pregnancy and childbirth
Having herpes simplex does not affect fertility or the ability to conceive. Talk to your doctor about taking antiviral tablets if you need to prevent outbreaks when you want to conceive. This is safe. If you have caught herpes simplex before becoming pregnant you can give birth normally. This is confirmed by the 2014 RCOG/BASHH guidelines for herpes simplex and childbirth.
Having outbreaks during pregnancy is normal. These will not harm the baby. Some women have more outbreaks during pregnancy. Towards the end of pregnancy, babies in the womb receive antibodies to all the infections that their mothers have previously caught. These antibodies protect the baby from catching these viruses during childbirth and afterwards, longer when the mother breast feeds. After that, this protection fades away. During pregnancy, herpes simplex only causes concern:
- if the mother has a first infection during the last few months of pregnancy because there may not be time for the baby to acquire antibodies from the mother before the birth.
- if baby is being born before 32 weeks (very premature). These babies do not have full antibody protection so they could be infected during the birth if the mother has sores.
In these cases, there is a danger that the baby could contract herpes simplex so a Caesarean-section is usually performed. Women who do not have genital herpes should be careful not to catch it in the last two months of pregnancy – as explained above. This means that if their partners are already infected (facially or genitally) they should avoid contact that might transmit the virus to the mother.
Small babies can be susceptible to viruses. Anybody with cold sores on the face should not kiss young babies. It used to be thought that there was a risk of miscarriage if the mother caught it in the first three months of pregnancy. Now we know there is no evidence for this at all. A primary infection will not cause miscarriage. A referenced “Pregnancy and Childbirth” leaflet is available to members.
Does herpes mean I have a greater risk of cervical cancer?
There is no greater risk of cervical cancer if you have genital herpes simplex. It was thought for a time that herpes simplex could be one of the causes of cervical cancer. Further research has shown that this is not so.
Can I give blood now I have herpes?
Yes. The virus is not found in blood.
Is herpes simplex ever serious?
Genital herpes can cause severe discomfort and a flu-like illness. In rare cases there may be urinary retention during a first outbreak and a catheter may be needed but this does not mean that it is considered to be medically serious. Some people with weakened immune systems or on certain medications may have many outbreaks and will be prescribed antiviral medication to prevent them. People with widespread eczema (or some other skin conditions) can have a more severe infection if a large area of skin is infected. Although genital herpes is not serious, facial herpes simplex can sometimes have serious complications – see links below. Rare complications of facial cold sores are:
- Bell’s palsy is a temporary partial paralysis of one side of the face that usually gets better in a few weeks. It can happen when the nerve in the face is affected by cold sores. This causes loss of taste, drooping features and unresponsive facial muscles – typically in only one side of the face. Bell’s palsy usually resolves in a few weeks though it can last longer. www.bellspalsy.org.uk can give you more information.
- Very rarely, when the virus has been caught on the face, it can reactivate inside the eye. This is called ophthalmic herpes simplex or herpes keratitis, dentritis or uveititis. It should be referred to a specialist eye doctor: if left untreated it may damage sight. Vision Matters may be able to give advice on dealing with eye conditions as well.
- Extremely rarely, when the virus has been caught on the face, it can reactivate in the brain. This is called encephalitis; if untreated, it may leave damage. www.encephalitis.info is a specialist charity for people with encephalitis.
Where can I get answers to my other questions?
We run a helpline answered by trained volunteers who have herpes simplex themselves. Phone 0845 123 2305 with a pen and paper handy to jot down the times when the next volunteer is available (it tends to be weekday afternoons and evenings). You can come and talk informally and personally to the patient representative for the medical Herpes Simplex Virus Panel, at the London meetings open to all – see News page.
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