How Is Herpes Transmitted
Herpes simplex is highly contagious. It is primarily transmitted via contact with an infected person, either with saliva or through direct contact with fluids from herpes sores.
Herpes may be transmitted either through sexual contact or non-sexual contact. HSV-1 is much more common than HSV-2.
It is not possible to get herpes from:
Herpes simplex viruses may be spread by:
- Less commonly, shared objects that touch the sores or saliva of someone with an active outbreak
In some cases, while not as common, herpes simplex can be passed from a pregnant person to their baby during birth.
Both types of herpes simplex can be asymptomatic. A person with no symptoms may still be able to spread the virus via saliva or other body fluids if it is actively shedding.
Viral infections never leave the body.
They may go dormant, during which time a person is not contagious.
Herpes simplex virus does not always reactivate, but is contagious from someone experiencing an outbreak, whether it is their first or one of many.
Most people are contagious a few days before sores appear and until the sores are fully crusted over and no longer producing liquid.
The Health Risks Of Genital Herpes
Pain and discomfort are the main health effects of genital herpes, but the virus can also cause emotional and social problems for those infected. Although it cannot be cured, genital herpes can be managed with antiviral medication that may help control the recurrences. On rare occasions, genital herpes may cause serious complications such as blindness and inflammation of the brain.
Genital herpes can sometimes be passed from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy or birth. The infection can be life-threatening to the child or result in skin lesions or brain damage. Antiviral medication and a cesarean delivery can reduce the risk of infecting the child.
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How Do Healthcare Providers Test For Herpes
How are you tested for herpes at a clinic or healthcare providerÃ¢s office? Healthcare providers will examine the location and severity of any active blisters or sores around the mouth or genital area. They may take a tissue sample of the sores to send to a laboratory for examination. A blood sample will be needed if an antibody test is used to check whether you have been infected with the herpes virus.
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Which Symptoms Mean I Should Get Checked
Get tested for herpes if you have:
- an outbreak of blisters, sores or lesions around the genital area
- pain around the genital area
- pain or discomfort when urinating
As soon as you begin to see blisters around your genitals, you can try home testing or visit a clinic. Do this before the blisters begin to scab over and heal for the most accurate results. If you have no symptoms or suspect a false negative result, a blood test can be done. This will only show if you have ever been exposed to HSV and if you may have outbreaks in the future.
How To Diagnose Herpes
Genital herpes is typically diagnosed through examination by a medical professional and a blood test. If you suspect you have genital herpes , you can take an antibody test.
To test for 6 other common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis, try the Everlywell home STD Test for women or the STD Test for men. After you collect your sample at home, it is received and analyzed at the lab, and the test results are sent to you quickly and discreetly via our secure, online platform.
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How Do You Get Herpes
The skin on your genitals, mouth, and eyes can be infected easily. Other areas of skin may get infected if theres a way for the herpes virus to get in, like through a cut, burn, rash, or other sores. You dont have to have sex to get herpes. Sometimes herpes can be passed in non-sexual ways, like if a parent with a cold sore gives you a peck on the lips. Most people with oral herpes got it when they were kids. A mother can pass genital herpes to a baby during vaginal childbirth, but thats pretty rare.
You can spread herpes to other parts of your body if you touch a herpes sore and then touch your mouth, genitals, or eyes without washing your hands first. You can also pass herpes to someone else this way.
Herpes is most contagious when sores are open and wet, because fluid from herpes blisters easily spreads the virus. But herpes can also shed and get passed to others when there are no sores and your skin looks totally normal.
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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When Are Herpes Tests Accurate
In the table below, we summarize information about the timing of herpes testing.
One of the most important factors in any infectious disease testing is doing it at the right time. This means two things in the case of herpes:
- For the blood test to be accurate, the right amount of time needs to have passed
- The swab test should be done while symptoms are âfreshâ
For each available herpes test, we will mention:
- The earliest testing time
- The ideal testing time
|Test type||Ideal time|
|Swab||The swab test may be performed as soon as the first blisters appear .Technique: A doctor scrapes the fresh lesion, collecting skin and fluid. To get accurate test results, this should be done within 48 hours of the appearance of the lesion .Note that technique and timing are important. This test is not commonly done for that reason,|
|Blood test for IgG||
||12 weeks after the initial exposure, over 92% of infected people are positive|
Get treated and/or tested for herpes
Same day treatment and testing
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What is the best treatment for me?
- 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 look out for signs of complications?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Millions of people are living with the herpes virus that causes genital herpes. Its a common STI. You shouldnt be embarrassed or put off seeking medical care if you develop symptoms. Treatments can ease symptoms, reduce outbreaks and protect sexual partners from infection. Having the virus shouldnt affect your relationships or sexual health. However, you do need to tell your sexual partners that you have the virus. Your healthcare provider can discuss ways to prevent spreading this STI.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/23/2020.
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How Can Herpes Be Tested/checked
Better2Know has three ways of testing for the Herpes virus:
- Blood Test if you have no symptoms
- Urine Test if you currently have symptoms
- Swab Test if you have a blister or other lesion for swabbing to see if it is caused by HSV.
At Better2Know, you can choose your test method: urine or a swab if you have symptoms, and blood if you do not. Results are available within 25 working days from us receiving your sample depending on which sample is taken. The test will tell you whether you have HSV-1, HSV-2, both types or neither.
At selected private sexual health clinics, Better2Know also provides instant Herpes testing. With this exclusive, popular Herpes testing option, you will receive your results from 10 minutes after sample collection.
You can also get a Home Sample Collection Kit by visiting our Home STI Tests page.
About Getting Tested For Stds / Stis
If youre sexually active and at risk, the time to get tested is now. One out of two people will contract an STI by age 25, and half of all Americans will get an STD at some point in their life . Plus, many STIs have no symptoms.
Thats why sometimes instead of testing for certain STIs, you can be screened for several at once. You can do that by getting a test called a full panel.
What is Included in an STD Panel?
A typical full-panel STD test includes a urine test for Chlamydia and gonorrhea, and a blood test forHIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C. It doesnt always include all STIs. In fact, practitioners often wont include a test for herpes unless you already have a sore.
Does a Pap Smear Include an STD test?
No, a pap smear does not include an STD test. A pap smear looks for abnormal cells on the cervix as a screening tool for cervical cancer. Tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis need to be done with blood and urine samples.
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How Soon Should I Test For Stds After Exposure
Use the table below to determine when you should get tested following exposure to an STD. The first column lists some of the most common types of STDs. The second column has the earliest time that tests offered by myLAB Box could be positive after a potential exposure. Some of the times listed are estimates due to limited data in other cases the window period is simply unknown. The third column tells you how long it could take following initial exposure to test positive for an STD.
For example, say you have been potentially exposed to genital herpes. If you look at the second column, it says you should take your first test 2 weeks from the date of exposure. This is the earliest that genital herpes will be detectable in your system. But according to the third column, it could take as long as 4 months, or 16 weeks, for genital herpes to become detectable in your system. In other words, the incubation period for genital herpes could be anywhere from 2 to 16 weeks following exposure.
This means if your results are negative when you get tested two weeks following exposure, you should get retested after 16 weeks. This way, you can confirm that it was not a false negative caused by testing before the STD was detectable.
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Is There Anything Else I Should Know
Herpes can make people more susceptible to HIV infection. The skin lesions give other sexually transmitted diseases , including HIV, openings for entering the body. Likewise, it can make HIV-infected individuals more infectious. Infection with HSV can also increase HIV viral load. HSV-2 infection is a significant opportunistic infection in HIV-infected individuals due to immune system deficiencies up to 90% of HIV-infected individuals are co-infected with HSV-2.
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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.
There Are Two Common Blood Tests Used To Identify Herpes And Theyre Often Misleading
I had a patient once who underwent this test, which was positive, and was told she has herpes, which to her was devastating and life-altering, Friedman says. She burst into tears when I explained the significance or lack thereof with this test, which is very misleading. There are two common blood tests used to identify herpes: IgG and IgM. The IgM test is still used by some doctors even though it has been denounced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . According to the American Sexual Health Association , IgM tests can lead to deceptive results, as well as false assumptions about how and when a person acquired HSV.
And thats not all: IgM tests fail to accurately distinguish between HSV-1 and HSV-2 antibodies, leading them to provide false-positive results for HSV-2. In other words, if youve been exposed to oral herpes , results of the IgM test could lead you to believe youre positive for genital herpes, when in fact you simply have antibodies against HSV-1.
IgG tests, on the other hand, are more accurate, but arent without their own issues. For instance, ASHA says that while an IgG test can distinguish between HSV-1 and HSV-2, the problem is that the time it takes for IgG antibodies to reach a detectable level varies from person to person. This means that even with accurate results, someone could get a false-negative if they have the test administered too soon after contracting the virus .
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How Can I Best Learn To Cope With Herpes Simplex
Some people feel distressed or embarrassed about their herpes simplex infection. Its important to understand that the herpes virus is common. For most people, herpes doesnt significantly interfere with daily life.
To cope with negative feelings, you may consider:
- Connecting with others through support groups or online forums.
- Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend or loved one.
- Speaking with a therapist.
Why You Should Go To A Sexual Health Clinic
You can see a GP, but they’ll probably refer you to a sexual health clinic if they think you might have genital herpes.
Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urine system.
Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you do not need an appointment.
They’ll often get test results quicker than GP practices and you do not have to pay a prescription fee for treatment.
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Why Is Testing For Genital Herpes Only Recommended For People Who Have Symptoms
CDC recommends herpes testing for people who have genital symptoms for herpes to confirm that they are infected. These events are called having an outbreak, and they appear as blisters on or around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take weeks to heal. Testing allows a doctor to talk with you about what to expect in the future, which medications are available to help manage any symptoms, and how you can lower your risk of spreading the infection to your sex partner.
If you have a partner with genital herpes, testing can tell if you also have the virus. If you are not infected, your doctor can talk to you about ways to lower your risk of getting genital herpes. If you are a pregnant woman and have a partner with genital herpes, it is very important to get tested. If you get genital herpes during pregnancy your baby could also become infected. Herpes infections in babies can be life-threatening. If you are infected, your doctor will talk to you about your diagnosis and the possible symptoms of genital herpes. In addition, herpes blood testing may be useful if you are seeking a complete STD exam, especially if you have multiple sex partners.
Doctors Dont Advise Getting A Blood Test For Herpes Without Any Symptoms
Hilda Hutcherson, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, is one of those doctors. I usually dont do tests for herpes someone has a lesion or a sore, something I can see, I will do a swab and take it to a culture or check the DNA on the materials I removed, she says. If theres nothing there and I do a blood test and the blood test comes back positive, lets say its positive for type 1, what does that really mean? Most people are positive for type 1. She adds that someone could be HSV-1-positive and either have or not have genital herpes. The result doesnt mean much, and it makes people go crazy.
Hutchersons motto is pretty simple: Why stress yourself over something if you havent seen anything especially when its something as common as herpes? Lets say they have a blood test come in positive but theyve never had a lesion. Now what? You may never get a lesion, she says. Its for this reason that she recommends people do not get tested for herpes unless they have a visible lesion that can be cultured and sent to a lab. Lets say you get tested anyway and it comes back positive, despite the fact that you have no symptoms. What do you do?
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