What Complications Are Connected With An Untreated Genital Herpes Infection
Just as there are health risks associated with untreated chlamydia in men and women, there are also risks connected with untreated herpesâeven in asymptomatic patients. Not only does the infection increase your likelihood of contracting and transmitting other STDs, but it can also lead to:
- Difficulty urinating, due to inflammation of the urethra
- Itchy urethra in males
- Infections in newborns exposed to the virus during a vaginal birth, which can severely harm the childâs health
- Rectal inflammation , especially in men who have sex with men
The best way to avoid these complications is to practice safe sex and routinely screen for STDs. You can conveniently check for 6 common STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis from the privacy of your home with the Everlywell STD Test for men and women.
How Is It Treated
Genital herpes can be treated, but it cannot be cured.Anti-viral medicines can make outbreaks:
Living with genital herpes causes some people to:
- Feel embarrassed or ashamed
- Worry about infecting a sexual partner
- Worry that having herpes will affect relationships with sexual partners
- Avoid dating or sexual relationships
Most people with herpes are able to live with the virusand manage their outbreaks. Talking to trusted healthcare providers and friends can help. Your health careprovider can talk to you about medicines that treatoutbreaks and about ways to reduce the chance ofpassing the virus on to a sexual partner.
Medicines can help lower the chance that you will pass the virus to others.
Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Herpes is one of the most common viral infections, with more than half of all people under 50 years of age infected with the HSV-1 type of herpes and an estimated 11% of people infected with the HSV-2 type of the virus, according to WHO data. One of the most common herpes-related questions is whether or not its possible to be infected with the herpes virus without ever experiencing any symptoms. Unfortunately, thats a thing, and its called asymptomatic herpes. In fact, its a major thing.
While most people associate herpes with cold sores on the lips and mouth or herpes lesions on the genitals, the reality is that most people infected with the herpes simplex virus wont get any symptoms.
Can I Be Treated To Prevent Genital Herpes Transmission To My Partner
Yes. A large study showed that if one partner has herpes and the other partner is uninfected, treating the infected partner with suppressive therapy can prevent transmission of symptomatic herpes in over 90% of cases. This is an option for couples who are interested in having unprotected sex or who are planning to become pregnant.
If you are entering into a new relationship and are aware that you have herpes simplex infection, you owe it to your partner to notify them before having sex.
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Is It Safe To Breastfeed If I Have Genital Herpes
Yes- as long as there is no open lesion on 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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Treatment If The Blisters Come Back
Go to a GP or sexual health clinic if you have been diagnosed with genital herpes and need treatment for an outbreak.
Antiviral medicine may help shorten an outbreak by 1 or 2 days if you start taking it as soon as symptoms appear.
But outbreaks usually settle by themselves, so you may not need treatment.
Recurrent outbreaks are usually milder than the first episode of genital herpes.
Over time, outbreaks tend to happen less often and be less severe. Some people never have outbreaks.
Some people who have more than 6 outbreaks in a year may benefit from taking antiviral medicine for 6 to 12 months.
If you still have outbreaks of genital herpes during this time, you may be referred to a specialist.
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Can I Still Have Sex If I Have Herpes
If you have herpes, you should talk to your sex partner and let him or her know that you do and the risk involved. Using condoms may help lower this risk but it will not get rid of the risk completely. Having sores or other symptoms of herpes can increase your risk of spreading the disease. Even if you do not have any symptoms, you can still infect your sex partners.
You may have concerns about how genital herpes will impact your overall health, sex life, and relationships. It is best for you to talk to a health care provider about those concerns, but it also is important to recognize that while herpes is not curable, it can be managed with medication. Daily suppressive therapy for herpes can also lower your risk of spreading genital herpes to your sex partner. Be sure to discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider. Since a genital herpes diagnosis may affect how you will feel about current or future sexual relationships, it is important to understand how to talk to sexual partners about STDsexternal icon.
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Can You Have Herpes And Not Know It
Yes, it is possible to have herpes and not know it.
Some people may have an asymptomatic infection, which means they do not experience any symptoms. Others have symptoms that are mild, go unnoticed, or mistaken for another skin issue. Because of this, theyâre less likely to seek out a diagnosis to confirm herpes.
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How Can You Avoid Genital Herpes
Most women get genital herpes through sexual contactwith a person who has herpes sores. You can get thevirus without having sex. To avoid infection:
- Avoid skin-to-skin and sexual contact.
- Have safer sex:
- Reduce the number of sexual partners.
- Condoms, when used correctly, can reduce therisk of getting genital herpes. Each time you have sexuse a condom :
- Before vaginal sex
- Before oral sex
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Do Symptoms Differ Depending On Location
Youll most likely notice similar blisters and prodromal symptoms, no matter what type of the virus you have or where it shows up. The two different types of HSV .
The only major difference, of course, is where you experience symptoms:
- If HSV affects your genitals, you might notice pain or burning during urination.
- If HSV affects your mouth, you might have difficulty eating spicy or acidic foods while you have open sores.
Theres also a slight difference in where oral blisters appear, depending on whether theyre primary or recurrent. During the first episode, blisters may appear on your mouth and lips, but during later episodes, theyre more likely to
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Pimplesand Not On Your Face
Well, at least its not as obvious as a big zit on your forehead? These tiny blisters dont always occur, but when they do, theres a good chance you have genital herpes. Like any miserable pimple, they eventually crust over and scab, says Jennifer Berman, M.D., a co-host on The Doctors. Its not necessarily on the genital areasometimes its in the crease of the underwear or closer to the buttock, she says.
Transmission Of Herpes Transmission Through Oral Sex: Symptomatic Vs Asymptomatic And With Protection Vs Without It
Since herpes transmission is through the direct skin-to-skin contact the oral to genital acquisition as well as genital to oral transmission follow the same general rule for herpes transmission
There are no statistics available on the probability of herpes transmission via oral sex .
Transmission of oral herpes when symptomatic versus when not symptomatic
The table below summarizes the risk of oral herpes transmissionâover time, with multiple sex actsâwhen the infected person is symptomatic and when they are not.
These percentages are general estimates. They may vary from person to person based on immune system strength , skin condition , and race .
Herpes shedding in patients positive for oral and genital herpes who have no symptoms
The table below summarizes the risk of shedding in the oral and genital areas.
Shedding of herpes is not accompanied by any symptoms or visible signs. Whether virus has shed is measured by attempting to isolate it on the skin when a patient has no symptoms.
These statistics are not related to transmission, but rather to viral shedding. The medical community does not know how much shedding needs to occur for transmission to occur, but most likely, the higher the virus shedding rate, the greater the chance of transmission.
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Wouldnt Testing Everyone Stop The Spread Of Genital Herpes
We dont know. There is no evidence that diagnosing genital herpes with a blood test in someone without symptoms would change their sexual behavior and stop the virus from spreading. In addition, without knowing the benefits of testing, the risk of shaming and stigmatizing people outweighs the potential benefits. For these reasons, testing everyone for herpes is not recommended at this time.
Do Condoms Help Prevent The Spread Of Genital Herpes
Yes. To prevent transmission of herpes, we recommend that condoms be used 100% of the time. Many patients will shed the virus and be contagious when they dont have symptoms. Studies have shown that asymptomatic shedding occurs between 1% and 3% of the time in patients with HSV II genital infections. Many new herpes infections occur from partners who are shedding the virus asymptomatically, so condoms are highly recommended.
Condoms may not be an attractive option for monogamous couples or for couples who desire to become pregnant. Couples may opt to have serological tests to determine if either partner has an asymptomatic infection. In close monogamous relationships, the risks of transmission can be weighed against other relationship issues, such as intimacy and pregnancy.
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How Does Hiv Transmission Happen
It is very important to understand how HIV transmission happens. It helps to understand what the necessary factors are and how soon you become infectious to other people.
The bodily fluid of an HIV-positive person must come into contact with the mucosa or damaged tissue for the transmission to occur.
How Do People Get Genital Herpes
Infections are transmitted through contact with HSV in herpes lesions, mucosal surfaces, genital secretions, or oral secretions. 5 HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be shed from normal-appearing oral or genital mucosa or skin. 7,8 Generally, a person can only get HSV-2 infection during genital contact with someone who has a genital HSV-2 infection. However, receiving oral sex from a person with an oral HSV-1 infection can result in getting a genital HSV-1 infection. 4 Transmission commonly occurs from contact with an infected partner who does not have visible lesions and who may not know that he or she is infected. 7 In persons with asymptomatic HSV-2 infections, genital HSV shedding occurs on 10.2% of days, compared to 20.1% of days among those with symptomatic infections. 8
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How Does Herpes Simplex Spread
Herpes spreads through close contact with a person who has the infection. The virus can be found in skin and saliva. If you have herpes simplex, you are most likely to pass the virus to another person when you have sores. But you can infect someone else even if you have no symptoms. Healthcare providers call this asymptomatic viral shedding.
People may get HSV-1 through
- Touching a persons skin near the mouth.
- Sharing food utensils, lip balm or razors.
- If you receive oral sex from someone who has a cold sore, it may spread a herpes infection to your genitals.
People may get HSV-2 through
- Oral sex with someone whos infected.
- Skin-to-skin contact without ejaculation.
- Touching open sores, including while breastfeeding.
- Childbirth by a mother or gestational parent who has an active infection.
You cant get genital herpes from objects like toilet seats. But you could pass genital herpes through shared sex toys.
You Can Get Tested For Herpes Today
You can order tests online and then go to a lab near you for same-day testing with no uncomfortable questions asked at all, and with nothing showing up on you or your familys insurance.
- Same-Day Lab Tests: Since were an affiliate of STDcheck, you can use this link to have our coupon automatically applied.
- Mail-In Test Kit: Nowadays, services like myLAB box will even send you a kit to test yourself at home. Pick one of their test kits here.
Never attempt to diagnose yourself. Even a visual exam for herpes by a doctor is often wrong. These days, professionals prefer to confirm everything with lab tests.
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Which Std Tests Should I Get
If you are sexually active, getting tested for STDs is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. Make sure you have an open and honest conversation about your sexual history and STD testing with your doctor and ask whether you should be tested for STDs. If you are not comfortable talking with your regular health care provider about STDs, there are many clinics that provide confidential and free or low-cost testing.
Below is a brief overview of STD testing recommendations. STD screening information for healthcare providers can be found here.
You can quickly find a place to be tested for STDs by entering your zip code in the form below.
Find an STD testing site near you.
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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Signs And Symptoms Of Herpes
The symptoms of herpes generally occur in two wavesan initial outbreak, which occurs after the virus incubates in the body, and subsequent outbreaks.
Initial herpes or cold sore outbreaks typically involve an itching and burning around the genitals , or around the mouth . Within a day or so, blisters can form in the affected area and develop into open, fluid-filled sores.
During an initial herpes outbreak, its common to experience headaches, muscle pains, fatigue and other flu-like symptoms. Many people also experience pain while urinating.
Recurring herpes outbreaks are similar, but are usually less severe than the initial outbreak. In people with HSV-2, outbreaks can occur up to five times a year, requiring two to three weeks to pass. People with HSV-1 typically experience one to two outbreaks per year, but that frequently varies drastically person to person.
Our guide to stopping a cold sore in the early stages goes into more detail about the typical symptoms of a herpes outbreak, as well as the triggers that can cause an outbreak to develop.
How Soon Do Symptoms Appear
Symptoms tend to come on suddenly anywhere from two days to two weeks after youve been exposed to the virus.
The appearance of symptoms is called an outbreak. After your initial outbreak is treated, you may have subsequent outbreaks during the next year and occasionally throughout the rest of your life.
Recognizing The Signs: The Prodrome
Early in the phase of reactivation , many people experience an itching, tingling, or painful feeling in the area where their recurrent lesions will develop. This sort of warning symptomcalled a prodromeoften comes a day or two before lesions appear. To be on the safe side, its best to assume virus is active during these times.
How Common Is Herpesand Who Is At Risk
Both types of herpes are quite common. The World Health Organization reports thatâgloballyâan estimated 67% of the population has HSV-1. As for HSV-2, estimates suggest that 13% of the population has it. Most of the people in both groups are asymptomatic and many do not know they have herpes.
Women tend to have a higher risk of HSV-2, the most common cause of genital herpes, compared to men. This is because transmission of the herpes virus occurs more effectively from men to women than vice versa. Having multiple sex partners also increases oneâs risk of getting herpes.
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