How Will My Healthcare Provider Know If I Have Genital Herpes
Your healthcare provider may diagnose genital herpes by simply looking at any sores that are present. Providers can also take a sample from the sore and test it. If sores are not present, a blood test may be used to look for HSV antibodies.
Have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider about herpes testing and other STDs.
Please note: A herpes blood test can help determine if you have herpes infection. It cannot tell you who gave you the infection or when you got the infection.
Is Genital Herpes Contagious How Does Herpes Spread
In over 95 percent of cases, herpes is contagious through skin-to-skin contact with people with the Herpes simplex virus. Herpes can be transmitted if one touches an infected blister or sore, usually through sexual intercourse. These sores appear as small lesions or tiny red bumps filled with fluid.
Contrary to popular belief, one does not get herpes through mere contact with vaginal fluids, semen, blood or saliva. Also, unlike the flu virus, herpes virus is not airborne, meaning one cannot simply get herpes by being in the same enclosed room with an infected person.
Is genital herpes contagious even without sexual contact?
Several forms of intimacy make genital herpes contagious. An infected person can pass on the genital herpes virus to another person through oral sex, when the cold sore on the persons mouth gets into contact with his or her partners genital region .
How Do Cold Sores Spread
Cold sores spread through contact with infected people. Since cold sores are so prevalent, most people are already infected with the HSV-1 virus that causes them. In fact, most research suggests that around 47.8% of all people aged 14 to 49 are infected with the HSV-1 virus.
Most people are infected with HSV-1 without ever realizing, often through intimate contact with a partner, an innocent kiss from a relative or even contact with infected things like eating utensils, razors, etc., that unintentionally transmits the virus.
Even if you already have HSV-1 , you might not ever develop a cold sore. This is because only a small percentage of people infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2 develop physical symptoms, such as oral herpes or genital herpes.
Still, its important to take precautions to prevent cold sores from spreading, even if youre fairly confident you or your partner already have HSV-1.
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Risk For Genital Herpes
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , about 1 in 6 Americans ages 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. While HSV-2 remains the main cause of genital herpes, HSV-1 has significantly increased as a cause, most likely because of oral-genital sex. Except for people in monogamous relationships with uninfected partners, everyone who is sexually active is at risk for genital herpes.
Risk factors for genital herpes include:
- History of an STD
- First sexual intercourse at an early age
- High number of sexual partners
- Low socioeconomic status
Women are more susceptible to HSV-2 infection because herpes is more easily transmitted from men to women than from women to men. About 1 in 5 women, compared to 1 in 9 men, have genital herpes. African-American women are at particularly high risk.
People with compromised immune systems, such as those who have HIV, are at very high risk for genital herpes. These people are also at risk for more severe complications from herpes. Drugs that suppress the immune system, and organ transplantation, can also weaken the immune system and increase the risk for contracting genital herpes.
What Can I Do If I Have Herpes Simplex 2
Many people who find out they have herpes feel depressed knowing they’ll always have the virus and can give it to others. But you arent alone. Herpes is one of the most common STIs, both in the U.S. and worldwide. If you have herpes, you should:
- Learn all you can about it. Information will help you to manage your disease and feel better about yourself.
- Talk about your illness with your doctor.
If you have herpes, you can still:
- Have sex if you use a condom or dental dam , and you tell your partner about your illness. Some couples, who have sexual relations only with each other, may choose not to use condoms even though one partner has herpes. Because each situation is different, you should ask your doctor if this is the right choice for you in your relationship.
- Have children. People with herpes can still give birth to healthy babies. If you have herpes and plan to have children, discuss your illness with your healthcare provider.
If you have herpes, you should also get checked for HIV and other STIs .
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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Hsv
Most commonly, HSV-1 causes sores around the mouth and lipsoften called cold sores or fever blisters. HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, but most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2. Typically, someone with HSV-2 will have sores around the genitals or rectum.
Symptoms are usually the most intense during the first outbreak and become less intense over time. Symptoms can last 2-4 weeks before resolving on their own without medicine, and even longer during the initial infection.
Some of the symptoms associated with HSV include itching, tingling or burning sensation, tiredness, swollen lymph nodes and flu-like symptoms, but many with HSV may have no symptoms at all.
While there are some tell-tale signs of HSV, not everyone may show visible signs or symptoms, resulting in them unknowingly transmitting it to a partner via contact, Dr. Gelow said. Unfortunately, there are no studies that show how often this happens, but we do know that the virus sheds 10-20% of the time in those who are asymptomatic.
Is Herpes Simplex Related To Herpes Zoster
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.
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Is There Any Resistance To Genital Herpes Medication
Resistance to drugs that treat genital herpes even after 20 years of use is very rare. Herpes medications may not work as well in patients who are very immunosuppressed and have been treated with these drugs for a long time. Each individuals response to treatment may vary. In some cases, patients may need more drugs to suppress their viral outbreaks than others.
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How Likely Am I To Get Herpes If My Partner Has It
The general rate of transmission of a person who has had herpes to their regular partner is about 10 percent per year, but the annual rate rises if the infected partner is a male. Unfairly, the female partner has a 20 percent chance of becoming infected, while the male partners risk is less than 10 percent.
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How Can I Prevent Hsv From Spreading
HSV is highly contagious. To help prevent it from spreading to others:
- Keep drinking cups and utensils as well as towels and washcloths separate from those used by other family members and wash them well after use.
- Dont kiss others and abstain from sex during the most infectious time, which is when any tingling or burning is felt in the infected area up until the sores have completely resolved.
- Wash your hands well and often and avoid touching your face and eyes.
- The consistent and correct use of condoms can help prevent the spread, but HSV can still spread from areas not covered by a condom.
How Is Herpes Simplex Diagnosed
Healthcare providers may diagnose herpes simplex based on how the sores look. Your provider may take a sample from the sore. Laboratory analysis of the sample can confirm or rule out the herpes virus.
If you dont have sores, your healthcare provider can use a blood test to check for HSV-1 and HSV-2 antibody, a marker showing youve been exposed to the virus. The blood test doesnt show an active infection . But it informs your provider whether youve been exposed to the herpes virus in the past. If this is your first infection, you may not test positive for herpes if there hasnt been enough time for your body to develop antibodies. The HSV-1and HSV-2 antibody test may be repeated in eight to 12 weeks.
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Where Does The Herpes Virus Live In The Body
The herpes simplex viruses are latent, meaning they can live in the body without causing symptoms. After the initial infection, the virus gets into the nerve roots and spreads to the sensory nerve ganglia, the junctions where nerves from different parts of the body come together. For the genital area, the ganglia are adjacent to the spinal cord in the lower back. For orofacial herpes , the ganglia are located behind the cheek bone.
Oral Herpes Poses A Risk Beyond Cold Sores
Dating when you have a cold sore on your lips or mouth can be embarrassing. But embarrassment shouldn’t stop you from telling a sexual partner if you feel a sore coming on or there is one hidden behind your lip.
Even if you’re on the mend, cold sores, which are also known as fever blisters, are highly contagious and may do more than just transmit the infection to your partner. It may increase your risk of a sexually transmitted infection .
The article will explore the viral cause of most cold sores and the risks associated with them. Plus, it offers strategies for discussing a cold sore with your partner.
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How Do You Prevent Genital Herpes
People with genital herpes outbreaks are highly contagious. Anyone with active disease should avoid any sexual contact when sores are present. Even the use of a condom does not prevent the spread of disease because not all sores are covered by the condom.
Although the chance of spreading disease is greatest when sores are present, people who have had genital herpes may always be contagious to some degree, even if they have received medical treatment. The virus can become active and be transmitted to a sexual partner even when the skin appears completely normal. For this reason, safe sex practices should be used between disease outbreaks to lessen the chance of spreading the disease to a sexual partner. There is no vaccine available to prevent genital herpes infection.
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Influence Of Gender On Hsv
In acute infection, the viral loads in all organs tested in females were significantly higher than those in males. These differences decreased, however, in latent infection .3). In acute infection, HSV-1 was detected only in the blood, adrenal glands, and nervous system of male mice. Dramatic differences were seen in gonadal viral loads while HSV-1 was undetectable in the testes, the ovaries were confirmed as an important target of infection. Viral levels in the trigeminal ganglia were consistently higher in females than in males . Significant differences were also detected between the sexes with respect to viremia and adrenal gland viral loads .3). The CNS also showed important sex-dependent differences with respect to viral levels, with spinal cord and brain female/male ratios of over 3,000 . In latent infection, however, viral loads in the CNS were not significantly different with respect to gender, but the whole blood and trigeminal ganglia showed very significant differences . In fact, in male mice, viral levels were undetectable .3). The organ with the highest viral load was consistently the brain, in both males and females, indicating a preferential tropism of HSV-1 for the CNS.
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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:
How To Reduce Your Risk Of Contracting Herpes
Because herpes is so common, millions of new people are infected with the virus every year. Often, new infections are asymptomatic, meaning you might not know that you have been infected for months or years after contact with the person responsible.
If you do contract herpes, particularly HSV-1, its important to remember that its a very common virus. Its also easily treatable, with a wide range of highly effective medications available in the event you have an outbreak.
With this said, there are several ways to lower your risk of contracting herpes, particularly HSV-2 :
Avoid risky sexual behavior, such as having sex with multiple partners without the use of protection.
If you want to have unprotected sex with your partner, ask them about their HSV-2 status and, if required, consider asking them to see a physician about getting a herpes test.
If youre not sure about your sexual partners HSV-2 status, use a condom to cover up the potentially infected area and reduce the risk of HSV-2 transmission.
Avoid sexual activity with people that have visible sores on their mouth or genitals, such as lesions that resemble small bumps or pimples.
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Treatments Available For Genital Herpes
Unfortunately, genital herpes still has no direct cure.
But it doesnt mean that youll simply have to live with it and forget about sex or normalcy in general. Instead, managing genital herpes infection comes with prescribed drugs and at-home remedies.
Your doctor will provide treatment plans that may include antiviral therapies depending on the prevalence of outbreaks. Some of the medications given to those diagnosed with genital herpes are famciclovir, acyclovir, and valacyclovir.
During flare-ups, you can ease the pain and discomfort through the following means:
- Applying a cold compress on the blister-filled area
- Taking a warm bath
Why It’s Important To Tell Your Partner
Herpes viruses are extremely contagious. And it’s not just the risk of spreading a cold sore that you should be worried about.
This is because herpes can spread from the mouth to the genitals or from the genitals to the mouth. Skin-to-skin contact is all that is needed.
Having an open sore also increases your risk of an STI by providing the virus or bacteria a direct route into the body. Herpes can actually promote HIV infection by attracting the immune cells the HIV virus targets and infects.
To this end, it is just as important to discuss both of your sexual histories and not just herpes. As awkward as this may seem, it allows you both to explore whether it’s time to get STI testing from your healthcare provider or local health clinic.
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Can Genital Herpes Cause Other Problems
For most women, genital herpes does not usually cause serious health problems.
Women with HIV can have severe herpes outbreaks that are long-lasting. Herpes also may play a role in the spread of HIV. Herpes sores can make it easier for HIV to get into your body. Also, herpes can make people who are HIV-positive more likely to spread the infection to someone else.
How Do I Know If I Have Genital Herpes
Most people with genital herpes have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms. Mild symptoms may go unnoticed or be mistaken for other skin conditions like a pimple or ingrown hair. Because of this, most people do not know they have a herpes infection.
Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. This is known as having an outbreak. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take a week or more to heal. Flu-like symptoms also may occur during the first outbreak.
People who experience an initial outbreak of herpes can have repeated outbreaks, especially if they have HSV-2. However, repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Although genital herpes is a lifelong infection, the number of outbreaks may decrease over time.
Ask a healthcare provider to examine you if:
- You notice any symptoms or
- Your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD.
STD symptoms can include an unusual sore, a smelly genital discharge, burning when peeing, or bleeding between periods .
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