Genital Herpes Is Spread By Skin
The virus can be spread when someone with HSV has an episode or an outbreak characterised by having a sore, blister, ulcer or skin split . It can also be spread between episodes, when there is no sore, blister, ulcer or skin split present called asymptomatic viral shedding.
During viral shedding the virus is on the skin surface and can be spread through genital skin-to-skin contact, or from the mouth or face to genital skin during contact.
Avoiding Passing Genital Herpes To A Partner
If you have herpes, you can follow some simple measures to avoid passing the virus on to your partner, and to continue to have a healthy and happy sex life. These include:
- telling your partner if you have herpes
- learning to recognise the warning signs that an episode is starting
- not have sex during an episode of herpes
- avoiding direct contact with your sores or blisters and another person
- avoiding kissing and oral sex when you or your partner has cold sores around the mouth
If you have frequent episodes of herpes then it is worth talking to your GP or sexual health clinic about longer term treatment which may also reduce the chance of you passing on the virus to your partner.
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Tingling Or Pain Before Blisters Form
If you know you’ve been exposed to herpes, you may want to watch for “prodromal” symptoms. “About 50% of people will have symptoms such as itching, tingling, or pain on genital skin before blisters or sores appear,” said Dr. Shim. Usually, you’ll experience an outbreak later, but it’s possible to have this tingling or itching and have no sores emerge.
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Oral Herpes And Cold Sores
Cold sores are a symptom of oral herpes .
Cold sores are blister-like sores that occur near the mouth or lips. They can also occur on other areas of the face. They typically persist for 2 weeks or more. Because theres no cure for herpes, cold sores can come back.
Genital herpes is quite common.
Although genital herpes is typically caused by HSV-2, the infection can also be caused by HSV-1.
According to the WHOs latest available statistics, it was estimated that 491.5 million people had an HSV-2 infection in 2016. This is over one-tenth of the worlds population ages 15 to 49 years.
The WHO also estimates that 3.7 billion people had an HSV-1 infection in the same year, which accounts for around two-thirds of the worlds population under age 50 years.
CDC does not recommend getting tested for herpes.
However, if there are symptoms of genital herpes, its important to see a doctor. They can make a diagnosis and discuss management strategies for the infection.
Additionally, if theres a potential of having been exposed to HSV, or if theres a desire to get a full STI exam and testing, its recommended to schedule an appointment with a doctor.
If an in-person appointment is not possible, an at-home test kit is another option to consider. However, its important to note that an in-person test done by a doctor may be more accurate.
Treatment can reduce outbreaks, but it cannot cure herpes simplex viruses.
How To Tell Someone You Have Genital Herpes
Medically reviewed by Michele Emery, DNP
Whether youre telling a close friend or a romantic partner, letting someone else know that you have herpes can be a nerve-racking experience.
Luckily, it doesnt need to be an event you fear or feel anxious about. Herpes is a very common virus, withan estimated 11 percent of the population infected with the HSV-2 form of the virus and the majority of people infected with HSV-1 .
Below, weve provided a range of tips, tactics and techniques to help you tell other people you have herpes without fear, anxiety or other common issues.
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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
Could I Have Genital Herpes And Not Know
Unless no one has ever kissed you, and unless you’ve never had sex, it is possible that you’ve picked up a herpes virus.
Oral herpes, usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 , shows up as cold sores or fever blisters on the mouth. Even a casual peck on the lips from someone with a cold sore can give you the virus. That’s why it’s so common: As many as 50% to 80% of adults in the U.S. have oral herpes.
Genital herpes, most often caused by the second type of herpes virus , is less common, but plenty of people still have it. Roughly one in five U.S. adults has genital herpes. But up to 90% of those who have it don’t know they are infected. You could be one of them.
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Myth: You Always Get A Herpes Outbreak Soon After Becoming Infected
Herpes is a sneaky infection. It can exist in the body for months or even years without showing symptoms, but itâs still contagious nonetheless.
If you do develop an outbreak, it will most likely happen two to twelve days after initial exposure to the virus. After the blisters break, they can take up to four weeks to heal.
Fortunately, subsequent outbreaks tend to be less intense. Recurring outbreaks are common but donât last nearly as long. These sores tend to heal within three to seven days, and the number of outbreak periods may even decrease over time.
How Do I Talk With People About Having Herpes
It might feel scary to admit you have herpes, but talking about things can really ease your mind. You could lean on a close, non-judgmental friend that you trust to keep the conversation private. Parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and other family members can also be a source of comfort. Remember, herpes is really common, so its possible the person youre talking to has herpes, too.
There are a lot of online support groups for people who have herpes, and the American Sexual Health Association has a list of support groups that meet in person.
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When You Have Sex With Your Partner Do It Safely
Even if your partner is completely fine with your herpes status, its important to practice safe and responsible sex. This means avoiding sex during outbreaks which are when the risk of herpes transmission is highest and using physical protection such as a condom or dental dam.
It means talking to your doctor about the potential use of antiviral drugs like valacyclovir, which can decrease the amount of viral shedding produced by the herpes virus and lower your risk of infecting others.
It also means accepting that theres always a risk of transmission, even with the use of condoms and avoidance of sex during outbreaks. Even asymptomatic herpes can spread in sex, meaning theres no way to be 100 percent protected when youre getting intimate with your partner.
Can Genital Herpes Be Treated
Your physician can prescribe different medications to help reduce your symptoms and speed up the healing of an outbreak. These medicines work best when you start them soon after an outbreak occurs.
To reduce pain during an outbreak:
- Sit in warm water in a portable bath or bathtub for about 20 minutes. Avoid bubble baths.
- Keep your genital area clean and dry, and avoid tight clothes.
- Take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Avoid aspirin.
Let your physician know if you are worried about your genital herpes. He or she can recommend a support group to help you cope with the virus.
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Causes Of Oral And Genital Herpes
Herpes is very infectious and also very common. Two studies published in PLOS ONE estimated that in 2012, 67% of people worldwide who are under 50 are infected with HSV-1, and 11.3% of people ages 14-49 are infected by HSV-2. Some people may not be aware that they are infected because it is possible for the virus to stay dormant and not cause any symptoms until an outbreak is triggered. People with herpes sores often confuse them with common skin problems such as rashes, pimples, bug bites, razor burns, ingrown hairs, or yeast infections.
Herpes sores are caused by one of two subtypes of the herpes simplex virus :
It should be noted that either subtype of the herpes simplex virus can infect any part of the body, usually through oral sex. That is, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, and HSV-2 can cause an oral infection.
Treatment For Genital Herpes
There is no medication to cure your body of the herpes virus. Treatment is aimed at easing symptoms, reducing the frequency of recurrences and reducing transmission.
Symptoms can be improved by:
- ice packs to the affected area
- pain-relieving medication such as paracetamol
- antiviral medication such as acyclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir. These can reduce the severity of an episode if taken early enough . Topical antivirals usually used for cold sores on the lips or face are not suitable for use on the genitals.
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Do The Symptoms Of Genital Herpes Return
The symptoms of genital herpes may reappear from time to time. This is because once the herpes virus is acquired, it stays permanently in the body. Most of the time it remains inactive, but every so often it may reactivate and cause another outbreak.
Each individual is different some people never have a recurrence others may have recurrences several times a year. However, recurrent outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first herpes episode.
Certain events or situations can trigger recurrences, and you may be able to help your partner avoid or reduce the trigger factors, which may include stress at work or home, fatigue, ill health, loss of sleep, friction due to sexual intercourse, and menstruation in women.
If your partner has frequent or severe episodes of genital herpes, or if the recurrent outbreaks are causing a lot of anxiety for your partner, then he or she may benefit from suppressive therapy , which prevents or reduces recurrences.
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Can I Get Tested For Genital Herpes
Yes, if you think you have symptoms of genital herpes or have been at risk of infection, you should speak to a healthcare worker.
There are different tests available. If you have symptoms, the most common test is to take a swab from a blister. The fluid can be tested for the herpes simplex virus.Some places may also offer blood tests to check for antibodies to the virus, but these are often not routinely available, so ask a healthcare worker if youre unsure.
If you have genital herpes you should be tested for other STIs.
Its also advised that you tell your recent sexual partner/s so they can also get tested and treated. Many people who have genital herpes do not notice anything wrong, and by telling them you can help to stop the virus being passed on.
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What To Expect On This Page
We summarize in this article how to recognize genital herpes and why itâs important to talk to your doctor if youâre worried you may have it.
The most common symptom of herpes is skin lesions. These lesions can be confused with similar-looking lesions caused by a number of other conditions.
Using photographs to help you see what weâre saying, we describe herpes lesions and compare and contrast them with the lesions caused by these diseases:
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How Is Genital Herpes Spread
- Saliva from a partner with an oral herpes infection
- Genital fluids from a partner with a genital herpes infection
- Skin in the oral area of a partner with oral herpes or
- Skin in the genital area of a partner with genital herpes.
You also can get genital herpes from a sex partner who does not have a visible sore or is unaware of their infection. It is also possible to get genital herpes if you receive oral sex from a partner with oral herpes.
You will not get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools. You also will not get it from touching objects, such as silverware, soap, or towels.
If you have more questions about herpes, consider discussing your concerns with a healthcare provider.
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When To Call The Doctor
Even though HSV sores can hurt and be unsightly, most cases of herpes do not cause serious illness. The sores go away in a few days. Contact the health provider if:
- Sores are present and you think it might be a first herpes infection. The diagnosis is usually made by examining the sores. If the sores have not healed, sometimes a laboratory test is done.
- Sores do not heal by themselves or show signs of infection such as pus, spreading redness or fever.
- Sores are near the eyes.
- You have another health condition with a weakened immune system.
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What Should I Do If I Have Genital Herpes
If you have genital herpes:
- See a doctor or nurse as soon as possible for testing and treatment.
- Take all of the medicine. Even if symptoms go away, you need to finish all of the antiviral medicine.
- Tell your sex partner so they can be tested and treated if necessary.
- Avoid any sexual contact while you are being treated for genital herpes or while you have an outbreak.
- Remember that genital herpes is a lifelong disease. Even though you may not have a genital herpes outbreak for long periods of time, you can still pass the virus to another person at any time. Talk with your doctor or nurse about how to prevent passing the virus to another person.
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Can I Treat Herpes Simplex At Home
Avoiding known triggers, such as illness or stress, can help reduce how often you have herpes outbreaks.
How can I ease my symptoms during an outbreak of HSV-1 ?
- Over-the-counter creams such as L-lysine, benzocaine or docosanol .
- Applying ice to blisters or sores.
How can I ease my symptoms during an outbreak of HSV-2 ?
- Apply an ice pack to your genitals. Wrap the ice pack in a washcloth or apply it over your underwear.
- Keep your genitals dry. Wear cotton or other nonsynthetic underpants and avoid tight-fitting clothes. Moist sores take longer to heal.
- Soak in a warm bath.
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain.
- Topical 1% or 2% lidocaine may be used as a topical analgesic.
Is It Possible To Have Herpes And Not Know It
Is it possible to have herpes and not know it because you have never had any sores?
Yes. Millions of people have genital herpes and dont even know it, because they never had symptoms or their symptoms were minor. Because the sores of an outbreak go away and do not always recur, and because they can be mistaken for minor problems like razor burn, many people never see a health care provider to get a proper diagnosis.
When someone does have symptoms, they can include
- pain and discomfort in the genital area
- itching and burning sensations during urination
Sores can last up to several weeks and then go away. Sores can return up to six times a year or more, or they may not return for years, if ever.
If you think youve been exposed to herpes or have symptoms that sound like those described above, see your health care provider. She or he can take swabs of the sores or perform a blood test to see if you have herpes. Although there is no cure for herpes, there are prescription drugs available to treat the symptoms and to reduce the number of recurrences.
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Can Genital Herpes Be Prevented
The only way to prevent genital herpes and other STDs is abstinence. This means not having sex . If someone decides to have sex, using a latex condom every time can prevent most STDs.
But condoms can’t always prevent the spread of genital herpes. This is because the virus may be in the skin near the genitals .
People also can lower their risk of getting an STD by:
- getting tested with any new partners before having sex
- only having sex with one partner
People who are sexually active should get tested for STDs every year or more often if recommended by their health care provider. To find a testing site near you, visit the CDC’s National HIV and STD Testing Resources.