What is herpes?

Herpes is an STI that is common in the U.S., with one out of every six people aged 14-49 affected. It is caused by one of two viruses called herpes simplex type 1(HSV-1) and herpes simplex type 2 HSV-2). It is passed from person to person through sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral) with an affected person. It can be passed whether the affected person is having symptoms or not.

Oral herpes is prevalent in about half the population and is usually caused by casual contact (for example, a kiss from a relative or friend). It is mostly caused by HSV-1. HSV-2 is more commonly found in the genital area. However, HSV-1 can lead to a genital infection via oral-genital exposure.

What are the symptoms of herpes?

Most people with herpes have little or no symptoms, and often don’t know they are infected. Mild symptoms may be mistaken for a pimple or ingrown hair in the genital area. For those who do experience the typical symptoms of herpes, it is often referred to as a “herpes outbreak” and is characterized by one or more fluid filled blisters that break and leave painful sores in the genital, rectal, or oral areas. The sores may take a few weeks to resolve. The first outbreak is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, or swollen glands. Repeat outbreaks are common, and are usually less severe than the initial outbreak. In between outbreaks, affected people have no symptoms, but are still able to transmit the virus through sexual contact. The virus remains dormant in the body.

If experiencing an active outbreak, it is important not to touch the blisters/sores, as the virus can be transported to other parts of your body. If blisters/sores are touched, it is important to immediately wash hands before touching anything else.

How is herpes diagnosed and treated?

Often, herpes can be diagnosed with symptoms and a health history. It is also possible to take a sample from a blister with a swab and test for the HSV virus. While there is no cure for herpes, there are medications available that can shorten the time of the outbreaks and decrease chances of transmission to sex partners. It is also imperative to have a candid conversation with sex partner(s) and the risk of transmission. Condom use will reduce the risk, but not completely prevent it.

It is important to realize that a herpes infection makes one more susceptible to HIV transmission if exposed, as the sores are openings in the mucosa, providing easier access to the body. This makes it more important to discuss your options for treatment with your provider.

How can I reduce my risk for becoming infected with herpes?

  • Avoiding vaginal, anal, or oral sex (abstinence)
  • If sexually active, strive for a long term, monogamous relationship with someone who has tested negative for STIs
  • Proper use of latex condoms every time you have sex

If you have any questions about your symptoms, please give us a call at the health center to discuss your options for testing.

CDC Genital Herpes