Herpes Myths To Stop Freaking Out About
A surprising number of people you know probably have herpes.
Shocked? You shouldnt be, since the virus is very common. According to the World Health Organization, 3.7 billion people under age 50 have herpes simplex virus type 1 thats 67 percent of the global population in that age bracket. Another 417 million people between ages 15 and 49 worldwide have herpes simplex virus type 2 .
Many people consider HSV-1 more benign, but it turns out theres not much difference between the two types of virus. While its true that HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted disease and can cause genital sores or blisters, type 1 can do the same thing.
One big misconception is that cold sores are caused by HSV-1 and genital herpes are always type 2, but thats not always the case, says Sarah Vensel, a physician assistant in San Francisco. Cold sores are so common theyve been normalized at this point. But genital herpes is sometimes the exact same virus just in a different location.
Not only is herpes incredibly common its also totally manageable. Allow us to set your mind at ease and debunk three widespread herpes myths:
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Herpes Encephalitis And Meningitis
Herpes simplex encephalitis is inflammation of the brain caused by either HSV-1 or HSV-2. It is a rare but extremely serious brain disease. Untreated, herpes encephalitis is fatal most of the time. Respiratory arrest can occur within the first 24 to 72 hours. Fortunately, rapid diagnostic tests and treatment with acyclovir have significantly improved survival rates and reduced complication rates. Nearly all who recover have some impairment, ranging from very mild neurological changes to paralysis.
Herpes simplex meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord. It is mainly caused by HSV-2. Like encephalitis, meningitis symptoms include headache, fever, stiff neck, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. Fortunately, herpes meningitis usually resolves after about a week without complications, although symptoms can recur.
Complications Of Oral Herpes
Theres no current cure for oral herpes . The virus remains in your system once its transmitted.
Blisters can disappear and reappear throughout your life. When you dont have visible symptoms, it means the virus is inactive, but you can still transmit it to others. Many people dont develop visible symptoms.
For the most part, oral herpes is a mild infection. Sores usually clear up on their own without treatment.
In rare cases, complications can occur. This is more likely to happen in people who have a weakened immune system, perhaps due to age or a chronic illness.
Possible complications can include dehydration if drinking becomes painful due to oral blisters. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to serious problems. This certainly isnt likely to occur. Just make sure youre drinking enough, even if its uncomfortable.
Another incredibly rare complication of oral herpes is encephalitis. This occurs when the viral infection travels to the brain and causes inflammation. Encephalitis isnt usually life-threatening. It may only cause mild flu-like symptoms.
Minor complications of oral herpes include a skin infection if the virus comes in contact with broken skin. This can occur if you have a cut or eczema. It can sometimes be a medical emergency if cold sores cover widespread areas of skin.
Children with oral herpes may develop herpes whitlow. If a child sucks their thumb, blisters can form around the finger.
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What Happens If Herpes Is Not Treated
Herpes can be painful, but it generally does not cause serious health problems like other STDs can.
Without treatment, you might continue to have regular outbreaks, or they could only happen rarely. Some people naturally stop getting outbreaks after a while. Herpes typically does not get worse over time.
The information on this page is adapted from the CDC and Planned Parenthood.
What Do I Do If I Find Out I Have Herpes
Its normal to have lots of different feelings after you find out that you have herpes. You might feel mad, embarrassed, ashamed, or upset at first. But youll probably feel a lot better as time goes by, and you see that having herpes doesnt have to be a big deal. People with herpes have relationships and live totally normal lives. There are treatments for herpes, and theres a lot you can do to make sure you dont give herpes to anyone you have sex with.
Millions and millions of people have herpes youre definitely not alone. Most people get at least one STD in their lifetime, and having herpes or another STD is nothing to feel ashamed of or embarrassed about. It doesnt mean youre dirty or a bad person it means youre a normal human who got a really common infection. The reality is that herpes can happen to anybody who has ever been kissed on the lips or had sex thats a LOT of people.
Herpes isnt deadly and it usually doesnt cause any serious health problems. While herpes outbreaks can be annoying and painful, the first flare-up is usually the worst. For many people, outbreaks happen less over time and may eventually stop completely. Even though the virus hangs around in your body for life, it doesnt mean youll be getting sores all the time.
And tell anyone you have sex with that you have herpes. Its not the easiest conversation, but its an important one. Here are some tips:
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What Treatment Is Available For Genital Herpes
Though genital herpes is not curable, it can be managed. Your physician may prescribe an antiviral medication, including acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir, to use during an outbreak. Over-the-counter pain medication can also be used to soothe symptoms. Your physician can provide advice on how to prevent transmission of the virus to sexual partners along with suggestions about how to discuss the topic of genital herpes openly.
Symptoms Of Genital Herpes
Many people who have genital herpes may not be aware they have the infection, because they may not have any symptoms.
The first episode of herpes can cause considerable pain and distress. Symptoms of the first episode may include:
- flu-like symptoms such as feeling unwell, headaches and pains in the back and legs, with or without enlarged glands in the groin
- small blisters around the genitals these break open to form shallow, painful ulcers, which scab over and heal after one to two weeks
- small cracks in the skin with or without an itch or tingling
- redness or a distinct rash
- some people also have considerable pain and swelling in the genital area, and hence may have additional pain and difficulty passing urine.
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How Does Genital Herpes Affect A Pregnant Woman And Her Baby
Neonatal herpes is one of the most serious complications of genital herpes.5,16 Healthcare providers should ask all pregnant women if they have a history of genital herpes.11 Herpes infection can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth, or babies may be infected shortly after birth, resulting in a potentially fatal neonatal herpes infection. 17 Infants born to women who acquire genital herpes close to the time of delivery and are shedding virus at delivery are at a much higher risk for developing neonatal herpes, compared with women who have recurrent genital herpes . 16,18-20 Thus, it is important that women avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy. Women should be counseled to abstain from intercourse during the third trimester with partners known to have or suspected of having genital herpes. 5,11
When To Talk With A Doctor
Herpes isnt curable, but it can be treated with antiviral medications. These medications can reduce the severity of an outbreak.
If you suspect you have herpes, make an appointment with a doctor. Its also a good idea to talk with your doctor about a herpes screening if:
- your current or previous sexual partner has herpes
- youre planning to have sex with a new partner
- you had a risky sexual encounter
If youve already been diagnosed with herpes and youre currently experiencing an outbreak, the outbreak might go away without causing complications and without treatment.
However, its wise to make an appointment with your doctor if:
- the outbreak is particularly painful or unbearable
- youre experiencing symptoms of other STIs
- youre experiencing frequent, severe outbreaks
If youre sexually active, its a good idea to have regular STI screenings. You can book appointments for STI screenings with your doctors office. You could also try a local clinic, certain pharmacies, or Planned Parenthood.
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Is Herpes Simplex Related To Herpes Zoster
Herpes simplex and the varicella-zoster virus are related, but they arent the same. VZV causes chickenpox and shingles.
Like HSV-1 and HSV-2, shingles can cause a painful, blistering rash. The shingles rash usually shows up on the back, side, abdomen , neck and face. It is often only on half of your body, following the pattern of your nerves. See your healthcare provider if you have a new rash and suspect you may have shingles.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Herpes simplex is a virus. Once you have herpes, its a lifelong condition. A herpes infection can lead to outbreaks , but youll also have times when you have no symptoms. The main sign of herpes is sores that appear on the infected skin. Some people choose not to treat herpes, especially if symptoms are mild. Others take antiviral medications to reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/17/2022.
What Happens At A Sexual Health Clinic
The doctor or nurse at the sexual health clinic will:
- ask about your symptoms and your sexual partners
- use a small cotton bud to take some fluid from 1 of your blisters or sores for testing
The test cannot:
- be done if you do not have visible blisters or sores
- tell you how long you have had herpes or who you got it from
Symptoms might not appear for weeks or even years after you’re infected with the herpes virus.
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Herpes Causes And Risk Factors
Causes of herpes include acquiring the virus through sexual contact, coupled with immune system suppression and sometimes nutritional deficiencies.
HSV-1 is primarily transmitted by oral-oral contact. On the other hand, HSV-2 is considered a sexually transmitted disease and usually passed during oral or vaginal sex.
A scary finding is that more cases of genital herpes than ever before are now being caused by HSV-1 , and about 85 percent of people with genital herpes dont even know it. Studies show that about 50 percent of the new genital herpes infections in young adults are due to HSV-1 and about 40 percent in older adults. The fact that most people dont ever find out theyre infected is one of the reasons that transmission rates are steadily climbing.
Risk factors for acquiring herpes include:
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What Is The Herpes Virus
Herpes is a virus that causes skin sores. The medical term for it is the Herpes Simplex Virus . It most commonly produces sores on the mouth or genitals.
Herpes is very common and doesnt usually cause severe health problems. However, it is very contagious and there is no cure.
There are two types of herpes: oral and genital. Oral herpes is called HSV-1, and genital herpes is called HSV-2.
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Can Genital Herpes Come Back
Yes. Genital herpes symptoms can come and go, but the virus stays inside your body even after all signs of the infection have gone away. The virus becomes “active” from time to time, leading to an outbreak. Some people have outbreaks only once or twice. Other people may have four or five outbreaks within a year. Over time, the outbreaks usually happen less often and are less severe.
Experts do not know what causes the virus to become active. Some women say the virus comes back when they are sick, under stress, out in the sun, or during their period.
Is There A Cure For Herpes
There is no cure for herpes, but the virus tends to cause the most symptoms during the first few years. After that, while herpes does not go away entirely, it usually causes mild to no symptoms.
When the virus is active, people can take medications to help reduce and prevent symptoms. Antiviral medicines may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of genital herpes or oral herpes and speed up the healing of an outbreak, such as:
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Questions To Ask Your Doctor
- What is the best treatment for me?
- Are there any side effects to my treatment?
- Is it safe to have unprotected sex if I dont have any sores?
- Can I give myself genital herpes if I also have oral herpes?
- Can I give someone else herpes even if Im not having an outbreak?
- What is the best way to prevent herpes outbreaks?
- Can I live a normal life with herpes?
- Am I at risk of developing any other diseases?
- Are there any support groups in my area?
- If I give my baby herpes, what is the treatment?
Is It Safe To Breastfeed If I Have Genital Herpes
Yes as long as there isnt an open lesion on your chest or breast. If you have an active outbreak while breastfeeding, its possible to spread the infection to your nipples through touch. Careful hand-washing can prevent this spread. You shouldnt nurse from a breast that has herpes sores. You can pump breast milk until the sores heal. Dont give your baby expressed breast milk if the pump comes into contact with an open sore.
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Will The Warts Go Away
Although HPV isnt curable in all cases, genital warts are treatable. You can also go extended periods of time without an outbreak, but it may not be possible to get rid of the warts forever.
Thats because genital warts are only a symptom of HPV, which may become a chronic, lifelong infection for some.
For those who clear the HPV infection, there is a chance of contracting an infection from the same strain or a different one. You could even contract an infection of multiple strains at the same time, though this is less common.
So even with treatment, genital warts may come back in the future. This depends on whether youve been vaccinated, how well your immune system is functioning, the strain of HPV you have, and the amount of virus you have .
Some strains are high risk and associated with later formation of squamous cell carcinoma , and you may not even know if you have a high-risk HPV strain until precancerous or cancerous lesions form.
90 percent of HPV infections clear within two years.
However, certain factors increase the risk of the infection not going away. These include having sex without protection, contracting other sexually transmitted infections , alcohol use, smoking tobacco, and having a suppressed immune system.
A recent study published in December 2017 noted that over 200 genetically distinct strains of HPV exist. The study looked at HPV infection in unvaccinated men between the ages of 18 and 70. Researchers tracked over 4,100 subjects over five years.
Can Herpes Be Prevented Or Avoided
The best way to prevent getting herpes is to not have sex with anyone who has the virus. It can be spread even when the person who has it isnt showing any symptoms. If your partner has herpes, there is no way of knowing for sure that you wont get it.
If you are infected, there is no time that is completely safe to have sex and not spread herpes. If you have herpes, you must tell your sex partner. You should avoid having sex if you have any sores. Herpes can spread from one person to another very easily when sores are present.
You should use condoms every time you have sex. They can help reduce the risk of spreading herpes. But its still possible to spread or get herpes if youre using a condom.
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What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What is the best treatment for me?
- What happens if I dont treat a cold sore?
- What are the side effects of antiviral medications?
- How can I reduce the risk of future outbreaks?
- Whats the best way to prevent getting another STI?
- How can I protect my partner from getting genital herpes?
- Should I lookout for signs of complications?
Treatment Of An Initial Outbreak
The first outbreak of genital herpes is usually much worse than recurrent outbreaks. Symptoms tend to be more severe and to last longer. Your provider will prescribe one of the three antiviral medications, which you will take for 7 to 10 days. If your symptoms persist, treatment may be extended. An acyclovir ointment may also be prescribed for topical treatment of initial genital herpes.
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Here Are 5 Tips That Can Help Boost Your Immune System:
#1 Practice a healthy lifestyle
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a natural way to boost your immune system and overall well-being. Practicing a healthy lifestyle can benefit just about every part of your body including your mind. Some core habits to living a healthy lifestyle include:
- Breathe and reduce stress when possible
#2 Keep up with your aging immune system
Naturally as we age the immune system response can be reduced. This makes us more prone to infectious diseases and viruses as we get older. It can also mean that our immune system cannot fight against diseases and viruses like it used to.
Ensuring proper nutrition is a very important part of boosting the immune system as we age. In addition, be aware that your immune system can weaken over time and take extra precautions to avoid germs and bacteria. You should consult a nutritionist for a personalized dietary plan to help boost your immune system.
#3 You get what you give
Pay close attention to the foods you put in your body and invest the extra time to read nutritional labels. The food you fuel your body with will reflect the strength you receive in return. Ensuring a balanced diet that is suitable for your body helps boost the immune system.
#4 Ensure well-being of your mind and body
#5 Exercise your body and mind
- Improve cardiovascular health