Safer Sexual Practices

Cold sores moving south in young people

Changing sexual practices are putting young Australian's at risk of developing cold sores "down under", warns an Australian GP well-versed in "pillow-talk".

GP and media health commentator, Dr Sally Cockburn, aka Dr Feelgood, is echoing global concerns of sexual health experts regarding the increasing incidence of genital herpes caused by Herpes Type 1.

"There is a worldwide increase in the incidence of genital herpes," said Dr Feelgood.

"This condition seems to have slipped off the agenda with the rising prominence of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the last two decades. But it's time we revisited Herpes.

"While genital to genital transmission of Herpes simplex Type 2 still remains the most common cause, better diagnostic tests are revealing an alarming increase the number of cases of genital herpes being due to the Herpes Type 1 virus amongst people in developed countries. Traditionally Herpes Type 1 has been mainly linked to cold sores around the mouth."

"It's a bit ironic, because it seems that our health messages have all been taken up well",
Dr Feelgood said.

"In the past, people would acquire the Herpes type 1 virus in the form of a cold sore during childhood. But now people with cold sores know not to kiss children. So what we're seeing is a population of young people growing up never having been exposed to Herpes type 1", she said.

"Then when the time comes to be sexually active, they are doing the right thing and practising safe sex during intercourse. However, they are often having unprotected oral sex thinking that since it is considered a safer sex practice they will be OK. "

"While the virus is at its most infectious during an active attack of herpes - either genital or cold sores, it is possible to shed the virus from the site between attacks", warned Dr Feelgood.

"There is no cure for the Herpes virus. But there is good treatment, which can reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. It's vital that people feel comfortable to seek professional advice and proper diagnosis about Herpes and I hope that this information about Herpes Type 1 might help to reduce the stigma associated with genital herpes. Cold sores carry no stigma. So if you can get genital herpes from a cold sore, why should there be any embarrassment about where it is on the body?"

According to Dr Catriona Ooi, sexual health expert from Clinic 16 at the Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney: "Anyone with genital lesions, such as blisters or sores, or who is concerned about herpes, should see their doctor. If they don't have a GP or are not comfortable discussing it with them, there are public sexual health clinics in each capital city Australia-wide offering information, diagnosis and treatment."

People seeking further information about herpes should call the national Herpes Information Line on 1800 102 200 and join Dr Feelgood for a 30-minute on-line chat session about herpes on Wednesday, 20 November from 9:00 - 9:30pm (Sydney time) at