Genital Herpes

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What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is a common STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) that is spread by the herpes simplex virus. It is transmitted when an infected person engages in sexual activity with a non-infected person, where there is contact between open and wet body parts such as the mouth, penis, vagina and anus.

They appear as small spots around the genital region (usually in bunches) and surrounding areas, including the anus. The spots then fill with liquid before bursting to leave sores.

Genital herpes is a lifelong condition, and symptoms can reoccur around four to five times in the first couple of years of being infected. As time progresses, outbreaks become less frequent and less severe. Some people with genital herpes won’t experience any symptoms for months or years after having first been infected with the virus, whilst others will never experience any symptoms and probably not know that they have herpes.

How do you get genital herpes?

Genital herpes is highly contagious and is spread by having sexual contact with an infected individual, or by coming into contact with their genital fluids (semen or vaginal fluid).

You can become infected with genital herpes:

  • By having unprotected sex (including vaginal, anal and oral)
  • By sharing sex toys with an infected person
  • If your genitals come into contact with an infected person’s genitals, even if there is no penetration or ejaculate present
  • Oral sex with someone who has a cold sore. The cold sore contains the herpes simplex virus, which may be transmitted to your genitals.

You cannot catch genital herpes from:

  • Kissing, hugging or sharing a bed with an infected person
  • Toilet seat or swimming pools
  • Objects such as towels, cups or cutlery

This is because the virus is not able to survive well outside of the human body.

What do genital herpes look like?

Genital herpes first present as small red blisters which eventually fill up with liquid, taking on a yellow colour. The blisters then burst open, leaving sores within the genitals and anal region. Blisters can also appear on the thigh and buttock region. The severity of the blisters differs between individuals. Some may encounter multiple blisters, whereas others may have one single sore only. Sometimes the symptoms may be so mild that they go unnoticed. 

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

Symptoms can appear from around one to two weeks after you have been infected. The skin around the genital region is likely to inflame at first, causing a tingling, burning or itching sensation. As the virus replicates, small red blisters that are usually bunched together in areas, may start to appear. Fluid then builds up inside the blisters, giving them a yellow appearance. The blisters then burst, leaving red sores that are painful and tender to touch.

Blisters can be accompanied by other symptoms including headaches, body aches, pain when urinating and generally feeling unwell as if you have a fever.

Symptoms do not appear after first being infected and tend to present in the first few weeks after contracting the infection. They may also present after several months or years, or never at all. 

If you experience any symptoms in the form of blisters, you should speak to your GP about getting tested, or order a herpes test kit online

What areas of the body do genital herpes affect?

In men, genital herpes can affect the penis, the skin of the testicles, the groin, the inside of your thighs, the buttocks and the anal region.

In women, genital herpes can affect the lips of the vagina, the outer vagina, the inner part of the vagina, the groin, the inside of your thighs, the buttock region and the anus.

What if I have no symptoms?

It is important to remember that some people may not experience any symptoms despite carrying the virus, and may have their first herpes outbreak months or even years after infection. Some carriers of the herpes virus will never experience symptoms, but they are still able to pass the infection on to others.

When is genital herpes most contagious?

You are most likely to infect someone else with genital herpes just before an outbreak (when you are experiencing a tingling or burning sensation in the affected areas), whilst experiencing an outbreak, and just after one has occurred. Sexual activity outside of these phases lowers the possibility of transmission, but does not eliminate it.

Does genital herpes itch?

Initially, you may experience a tingling or itching sensation. As the outbreak progresses, the itching tends to stop and the blisters start to become painful.

Can you cure genital herpes?

There is no medication available to cure herpes at this current moment in time. Once the virus enters your body, it remains inactive in your nerve cells until a trigger activates it. Once the virus has been activated, you will experience symptoms such as blistering around the genital, thigh, groin or buttock area. You can buy herpes treatment in the form of antiviral medication such as aciclovir and valaciclovir to help shorten the length of outbreaks and ease symptoms.

What can trigger a herpes outbreak?

A herpes outbreak can be triggered by a number of factors. It is unknown what exactly causes an outbreak, and this can vary upon induvial. However, the following are thought to trigger a genital herpes outbreak.

  • Weak immune system
    The common cold, flu, or any other time where your immune system is weaker than normal may trigger an outbreak.
  • Hormone changes
    Fluctuating levels of hormones for example during menstruation can trigger an outbreak.
  • Vigorous sex
    It has been reported that strong friction can irritate the skin and potentially lead to an outbreak.
  • Stress
    Physical or mental stress has proven to have a strong correlation to causing outbreaks of genital herpes.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
    Excess exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light

Why is there no cure for herpes?

STD’s caused by bacteria (such as chlamydia) respond well to antibiotics and can be completely eliminated. Genital herpes is not spread by bacteria and is caused by a virus. Whilst some people experience symptoms within 1-2 weeks, the herpes simplex virus lays dormant in other individuals, becoming active months or years later. The virus may never become active in some individuals who will not know that they have herpes. The unpredictable behaviour of the virus makes it difficult to develop a cure. There have been multiple drug companies who have failed at producing a treatment for herpes, however research is still ongoing and there are possible cures for herpes in the pipeline. Currently, you can only buy herpes treatment to suppress the virus from stopping or shortening the symptoms associated with herpes.

What is the treatment for genital herpes?

Genital herpes is treated with Aciclovir or Valaciclovir. These are both antiviral medication that help the immune system fight against the virus.

 

Aciclovir

  • Treatment of first episode – 400mg (1 tablet), three times a day for five days
  • Treatment of recurrent infection – 400mg (1 tablet), three times a day for three to five days
  • Suppressive therapy (for those that experience six or more outbreaks a year) – 400mg (1 tablet), twice daily ongoing

 

Valaciclovir

  • Treatment of first episode - 500mg (1 tablet), twice daily for five days
  • Treatment of recurrent infection – 500mg (1 tablet), twice daily for three to five days
  • Suppressive therapy (for those that experience six or more outbreaks a year) – 500mg (1 tablet) daily ongoing

Which is the best antiviral treatment for herpes?

Both aciclovir and valaciclovir block the replication of the herpes simplex virus, inactivating it. In fact, valaciclovir is a pro-drug of aciclovir, and once ingested, valaciclovir is broken down into aciclovir. This means that a higher dose of valaciclovir can be taken, and will stay for longer in the body, and therefore needs to be taken less frequently than aciclovir. Both drugs are effective in treating herpes and work just as well with only a few people experiencing side-effects.

How long does it take to get rid of a genital herpes outbreak?

The antiviral therapies assist the body in fighting the virus, speeding the recovery time. The first outbreak tends to be the most severe, and can last between 2-3 weeks. Subsequent outbreaks tend to become less severe and generally pass within a few days. Antiviral medication helps to speed up the recovery time, shorten the length of an outbreak, as well as helping to ease symptoms.

If I have sex with someone who has herpes, will I get it?

It is possible to contract herpes from someone who has the virus, regardless of whether they are experiencing an outbreak or not. Someone who has genital herpes is most contagious when an outbreak is about to begin, during an outbreak, or shortly after one has finished. The chances of contracting or passing on herpes are lower in between outbreaks, but there is still a chance of contracting the virus, even though symptoms may not be present.

Can I use herpes treatment if I am pregnant?

It is possible to be prescribed herpes treatment if you are pregnant. This should be done under the close supervision of your doctor, who can prescribe you with herpes medication if the benefits are thought to outweigh the potential risks.

If I have herpes, will my baby get it?

If you have acquired genital herpes before your pregnancy, there is an extremely low chance that it will be passed onto your child. This is because your body has built up antibodies in order to fight the virus. These antibodies are provisionally given to your baby through the placenta during pregnancy. So, even if there are genital sores around the vagina during birth, the antibodies are a form of protection for the baby. It is important to let your doctor know, so that extra measures can be taken in order to protect the new born. Women who develop herpes later on in their pregnancy however, are at an increased chance of passing the virus onto their child. This is because the immune system has not built up antibodies as a form of protection to fight the virus, meaning that the baby is able to contract herpes. This potentially can be dangerous and potentially life threatening for the child. If you have contracted genital herpes at any point during your pregnancy, you should see your doctor immediately.

Who should get tested?

If you experience any of the symptoms of herpes, you should get tested. The most accurate tests will include taking a swab from an open sore. The reliability of results depends on the quality of the sample. If you do not have any signs or symptoms, it is likely that the test will come back negative.

How and where can I get tested?

You can visit your GP practice who will give you more information on how to get tested. Alternatively, you can visit your local GUM clinic or get tested using an online STD screening service.

How can I avoid getting genital herpes?

  • Practice safe sex by using a condom every time you engage in vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • Cover the genitals with a dam (thin piece of soft plastic or latex) during oral or dry sex
  • Avoid sharing sex toys, or wash them thoroughly before use

Will getting herpes affect my fertility?

Your fertility is not affected by genital herpes, but you should let your doctor know if you are pregnant and have genital herpes. This is because an outbreak at the time of childbirth can potentially be dangerous for the child and you may need to take suppressive therapy in the run up to giving birth.

Can I have a normal sex life if I have herpes?

It’s important to be open and honest with your sexual partner. Although there is no way of being certain that you cannot transmit the infection, there are ways of minimising the risks of passing the infection on.

  • Refrain from sexual activity during an outbreak
    This is the time when the virus is most active, and therefore contagious.
  • Use protection
    Barrier methods such as condoms and dams reduce the likelihood of catching herpes.
  • Take herpes medication
    You should speak to your doctor or pharmacist about ordering herpes treatment to reduce the symptoms and length of an outbreak. Suppressive therapy can also reduce the risk of transmission.

Herpes Treatment Online

If you have been diagnosed as having genital herpes, you can buy herpes treatment online after completing a short medical questionnaire. Our process is 100% confidential all the way through from start to finish. As long as our clinicians authorise that it is safe for you to be prescribed with a treatment course, we will post the medication out to you in plain, non-identifiable packaging.

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