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Helpline – what they ask

What is it?

It amazes our new helpline volunteers how often a caller phones to describe their symptoms and get the helpliner to say what they have. We cannot do that. There are 24 ‘differential diagnoses’ that a sexual health doctor will be considering when s/he is shown what might be genital herpes.

We don’t list these on our website as we don’t want to encourage self-diagnosis.  After all, they don’t give a medical student a link to a website and say ‘Now you can diagnose sexually shared conditions”!

Impetigo is one of the conditions that can be confused with herpes simplex. The Center for the Biology of Chronic Disease (CBCD) in the USA has highlighted the difference between an infection with herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2 and impetigo, a bacterial skin infection.  Check the vesicles (small, fluid-filled sacs) on the skin. As time goes on, if the vesicles become cloudy and ultimately result in crusts that are honey colored, the infection is more likely to be herpes. The CBCD says “When an impetiginous pustule is unroofed, it is noticeably filled with pus. A herpetic lesion may appear to be pus filled, but when it is unroofed, only a scant amount of clear fluid is found.” Herpes simplex is often recurring. In other words, if this is something you have had before, it could be herpes simplex.

This is not the case with impetigo.  Antibiotics are usually prescribed for an impetigo infection, whereas herpes simplex can go  away by itself, or a person may use Lomaherpan or take antivirals (see advert box).

Surprisingly, eczema is another skin condition that has been confused with genital herpes. Eczema can affect skin on any part of the body. One of our members phoned me to say “Marian, I am not renewing my subscription [after two years] as it was eczema all along.”  So if you have not been diagnosed – don’t guess, go to a sexual health clinic. lists them all.
Marian Nicholson 8-8-2017

What’s new in January – and does boozing cause sex?

Happy New Year. Have you had your SPHERE magazine? Do you agree with the cover article about genetics – in other words, do you have family members who get cold sores (anywhere)? Check page 14 for the update on the legal case.

Did the stress of Christmas bring on an outbreak? Two years in a row, it affected me! I remember bagging the left corner of the sofa, so I could sit leaning on the left cheek of my bum as the other ached so much… That was how my prodromal symptoms showed themselves at that time. Now I use Lomaherpan immediately and it stops the symptoms.

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Our helpline is inundated after the Christmas holidays – and not just ours, other sexual health/contraception helplines report the same. People have ‘made a mistake’ and want to ask if they are at risk, how long before they notice symptoms, how to explain a new case of genital herpes to a long-term partner. We are good at that! Call 0845 123 2305 if you need advice or information. And call 020 7607 9661 if you are interested in becoming a helpliner (You must have a landline.)

Question to you all: David Cameron has said that by cutting boozing, there will be a fall in ‘unplanned sex’ in other words, sex without condoms/contraception that could result in pregnancy – or STIs. Do you think that boozing is the cause of the sex? Or do you think that it is the other way round? That is, people want to give themselves the excuse to have sex and so they drink because then they can say/think “I didn’t mean it, I was sloshed.” Comment in an email and I will upload them.
Marian Nicholson 6-1-2012


The helpline was busy today… Quite a few people phone up and say “I have talked to you before” and then I have to tell them them that I cannot remember! There are too many people and not many ‘personal stories’ are so different that I will remember the details! Quite frankly, it is probably a good idea I don’t remember and they can tell me their story and ask their questions all over again… In the early days when I was in a state about it, I needed lots of ‘talks’ about… So I reassure them that it is OK for them to call again and to talk to all our helpliners. (Monday lunchtime, Tuesday evening, and Thurs/Fri morning we have volunteers – at other times, Nigel and I answer.) All the volunteers will all have a slightly different way of expressing themselves.

Marian Nicholson – 6th October 2010