Genital herpes is an infection of the genitals caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two sub-types of the herpes simplex virus. HSV-1 causes facial herpes, including cold sores on the lips, but has increasingly been implicated in cases of genital herpes. HSV-2 almost exclusively causes herpes on the genitals. Around 80% of people with genital herpes don't even know they have it, as there are often no symptoms. Over-the-counter treatments for cold sores will not treat genital herpes, so smearing your genitals with an antiseptic cream is not a real alternative to visiting your local GP or GUM clinic.
How to Avoid
Even without symptoms, it's possible to pass genital herpes on to a sexual partner because the virus may sometimes be present in your genital area. Once you get the herpes virus it's with you for life, which means you will have recurrent infections and need to carry on being careful. Because genital herpes is spread by skin-on-skin contact, condoms aren't entirely effective but will still cut your risk by about half.
Over-the-counter treatments for cold sores will not treat genital herpes. You'll need to speak to your GP or GUM clinic if you think you're infected. Treatment is usually with antiviral tablets but other treatments may also be necessary.