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There have been several important advances in the range of available diagnostic tests for genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection in recent years; polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is emerging in routine clinical use and the potential role of type specific serological tests is currently under debate. Several large trials of prophylactic vaccines, subsequently proved to be ineffective, have expanded knowledge of the transmission and epidemiology of HSV infection. This article discusses optimal application of recent research evidence to clinical care, structured around the key issues for patients and their partners. These include acquisition and transmission of genital HSV-1 and HSV-2 infection, the natural history of genital herpes, and the role of partner notification.