How Do I Know If I Have Genital Herpes
Most people who have genital herpes have no symptoms, or have very mild symptoms. You may not notice mild symptoms or you may mistake them for another skin condition, such as a pimple or ingrown hair. Because of this, most people who have herpes do not know it.
Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take a week or more to heal. These symptoms are sometimes called having an outbreak. The first time someone has an outbreak they may also have flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, or swollen glands.
People who experience an initial outbreak of herpes can have repeated outbreaks, especially if they are infected with HSV-2. Repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Although the infection stays in the body for the rest of your life, the number of outbreaks may decrease over time.
You should be examined by your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or if your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD. STD symptoms can include an unusual sore, a smelly genital discharge, burning when urinating, or bleeding between periods.
Transmission Of The Virus
The highest risk of transmission is during the blister phase, although some virus may be present just before or after an outbreak. Get as informed as you can about the condition and become aware of symptoms such as tingling that indicate you’re about to have an attack. Abstain from sexual activity during an outbreak and consider using condoms and dental dams at other times for added protection.
“This indicates they are likely to have contracted the virus through receiving oral sex from a partner with a cold sore,” he explains. So it is also important to be aware of facial herpes outbreaks in the context of sexual health.
For most people who have been diagnosed, the risk of passing the virus on to someone else when they don’t have any visible symptoms is incredibly low, says O’Mahony.
“The issue with asymptomatic shedding has been blown out of all proportion. Some people will shed tiny amounts of virus in between outbreaks, but it’s very unlikely there’s enough present to cause an infection in somebody else.”
How Is Genital Herpes Treated
Herpes has no cure. But antiviral medicines can prevent or shorten outbreaks during the time you take the medicine. Also, daily suppressive therapy for herpes can lower your chance of spreading the infection to your partner.
Your doctor will either give you antiviral medicine to take right after getting outbreak symptoms or to take regularly to try to stop outbreaks from happening. Talk to your doctor about treatment options.
During outbreaks, you can take the following steps to speed healing and prevent spreading herpes to other parts of your body or to other people:
- Keep sores clean and dry.
- Try not to touch the sores.
- Wash your hands after any contact with the sores.
- Avoid all sexual contact from the time you first notice symptoms until the sores have healed.
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When Should I Tell My Partner I Have Genital Herpes
When it comes to dating with herpes, the first question youmight ask yourself is, When is it a good time to tell my partner?
Ultimately, its up to you to decide exactly when you want to tell your partner that you have an STI, but one things for certain: Tell him or her before you two have any sexual contact. Its just common sense. If you think you might have an STI, its absolutely your responsibility to tell your partner , prior to being intimate, in order to reduce the chances that youll spread it. You might be dreading telling your partner that you have herpes, but its much better than telling your partner that he or she might have herpes.
Prevention Of Genital Herpes
The best protection against STIs is to always use barrier protection such as condoms, female condoms and dams . Because herpes is spread by skin-to-skin contact, condoms will reduce the risk of transmission, but it will not protect sexual partners completely as condoms do not cover the entire genitals.
Using lubricant with a condom during sex will also reduce the risk of trauma to the genital skin. This has been shown to reduce HSV transmission, especially in the first six months of a sexual relationship. Silicone-based lubricants are recommended.
Remember that herpes transmission can occur when symptoms are present , but may also occur even if there are no genital symptoms through asymptomatic viral shedding.
For people who have frequent episodes of genital herpes, antiviral medication, taken daily, helps to reduce transmission of herpes to a sexual partner.
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Your Sex Life And Herpes
Many individuals have concerns about their sex lives. That is a perfectly normal response but having genital herpes does not mean that one can no longer have sex. It just means taking extra precautions when one is having foreplay or sexual intercourse.
It is important to educate your partner about the risks as there is still a chance that he or she may be infected even when there are no symptoms or signs of the sores.
Condoms can be ineffective if they are used during an outbreak. During a primary or recurrent outbreak, it is advised that people abstain from sex for the period. The symptomatic sores are widely recognized as being very contagious. Herpes can however still be transmitted even without contact with the sores. Herpes can also be transmitted through oral sex. Infected individuals who feel a tingling or itching symptom beneath their skin should refrain from engaging in any form of physical sex during this period as this may be indicative of an impending outbreak.
What Is Hsv And How Does It Spread
In most cases, herpes blisters heal without long-term scarring. The recurrence rate is about 33% for people with oral herpes and 50% for those with genital herpes. More facts about HSV include the following:
- HSV spreads by skin-to-skin contact with a rash and can be sexually transmitted . It can also spread by sharing sex toys.
- Women with active genital herpes can pass on the infection to their babies while giving birth.
- It is highly contagious between the time when symptoms first appear and blisters or sores completely heal.
- Both oral and genital herpes can spread even in the absence of sores. This is called asymptomatic shedding. It is extremely important to be aware of this because there is about a 10% chance you can get herpes infection from a person who is asymptomatic yet shedding the virus.
- People who have active herpes can start dating and engaging in sexual contact once they have been treated and recovered , but it is important that they are honest with their partners.
- Using condoms may reduce the risk of herpes transmission but will not eliminate the risk completely.
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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.
How Do I Tell Someone I Have Herpes
Try to stay calm and just be honest. Its probably not going to be the most comfortable conversation youve ever had, but there are a few things you can do to make the process easier:
- Be prepared for questions. Study up and know the facts so you have the correct answers.
- Time it right. Find a time when you both will be able to give the important conversation your full attention.
- Always tell a potential partner before you engage in oral sex or intercourse.
- Try not to judge yourself. This is a health issue, not an indictment on your character.
What Do I Need To Know About Dating With Herpes
Some people feel like their love lives are over when they find out they have herpes, but its just not true. People with herpes have romantic and sexual relationships with each other, or with partners who dont have herpes.
Talking about STDs isnt the most fun conversation youll ever have. But its super important to always tell partners if you have herpes, so you can help prevent it from spreading.
Theres no one way to talk about having an STD, but here are some tips that may help:
Keep calm and carry on. Millions of people have herpes, and plenty of them are in relationships. For most couples, herpes isnt a huge deal. Try to go into the conversation with a calm, positive attitude. Having herpes is simply a health issue it doesnt say anything about you as a person.
Make it a two-way conversation. Remember that STDs are super common, so who knows? Your partner might have herpes too. So start by asking if theyve ever been tested or had an STD before.
Know your facts. Theres a lot of misinformation about herpes out there, so read up on the facts and be prepared to set the record straight. Let your partner know there are ways to treat herpes and avoid passing it on during sex.
Tell your past partners too, so they can get tested.
Talking Herpes With Charles Ebel
Is it difficult to adjust to a herpes diagnosis? What about the emotional impact of herpes? How do you talk to a new sexual partner about a herpes infection? Co-author of Managing Herpes: Living & Loving with HSV,Charles Ebel, discussed answers these questions and more, explaining that it is possible to have genital herpes and have a perfectly satisfying sex life!
What can you do to speed the process of adjusting to herpes? Keep in mind the following:
- Realize that its normal to be stressed emotionally by herpes, especially at first. Give yourself time to adjust, and remember that the emotional issues will get easier.
- Try to keep in mind that genital herpes is somewhat like other infections you may have had in the past. You are capable of managing it.
- If youre feeling isolated, you may need to find someone to talk to. Perhaps you might pick one close friend and tell her or him about it. You can ask that the conversation be kept in absolute confidence. You can also visit a local HELP group if there is one in your area, or visit our online support forum.
- Try not to make the assumption that having herpes will prevent you from being romantically involved or having successful long-term relationships. There are millions of couples in which one or both partners have this virus. For the vast majority, the relationships stand or fall on far more important issues.
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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.
What Happens If I Dont Get Treated
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you touch your sores or the fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another part of your body, such as your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes to another part of your body. If you do touch the sores or fluids, immediately wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading your infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your developing fetus, or newborn baby. See Im pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby? above for information about this.
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Send The Message Before You Have Sex
The conversation needs to happen before having sex and hopefully not in the heat of the moment. Alexandra Harbushka, founder of Life With Herpes and spokesperson for Meet People With Herpes, says a great way to lead with the topic is talking about both parties sexual health, and insisting that you both get tested.
Impact Of A Genital Herpes Diagnosis
As a practitioner, you may encounter a variety of responses from individuals who receive a genital herpes diagnosis, ranging from indifference to devastation. Some may display strong emotions and anxiety due to how they perceive the infection and the stigma associated with it.
Common psychological, social and sexual distress reactions may include:
- shame, guilt, anger
- anxiety over impact on fertility/childbearing
- depression, low self-esteem and resulting isolation
- fear of being judged, stigmatized, rejected by partners
- confusion, denial
- inability to disclose genital herpes status resulting in concealment
These emotional sequelae may deter individuals from seeking further care, disclosing their status to sexual partners, or even engaging fully in their everyday lives. For example, low self-esteem may decrease the feeling of desirability and adversely affects romantic and sexual relationships. Some feel they are no longer appealing or worthy of a loving relationship as a result of having the infection.Footnote 1Footnote 11Footnote 12
The goal of supportive counselling is to help individuals:
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Symptoms Of Recurrent Infection
The symptoms associated with recurrent infection are generally found to be less severe when compared to primary ones.
Herpes on the lips of young woman
These symptoms are observed to last for almost 10 days the list includes:
- Cold sores at mouth area.
- Women may feel ulceration or blisters in cervix.
- Tingling sensation or burning around the genitals.
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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What Are Signs Of Genital Herpes In Women
Women who have the herpes virus may have nooutbreaks or signs of infection. Many do not know theyhave the virus. Once you are infected, the virus staysin your nerve cells for life. When the virus is not active,there is no sign of infection. When the virus becomesactive, a herpes outbreak occurs. Some womenmay not have any outbreaks or may have only oneoutbreak, while others may have multiple outbreaks.
The Role Of Substance Use
Nearly 20% of women mentioned an increase in alcohol and drug use following their HSV-2 diagnosis. Reports of alcohol and drug use were similar between participants recruited from community court and the STD clinic . Participants stated the substance use helped them forget about their diagnosis , or feel better .
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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.
Learning To Support Yourself
While the support of others is integral in helping us move beyond adverse events, its just as important to make strides to support ourselves.
Do your research: Review factual and scientific information about herpes from resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , the World Health Organization, and the American Sexual Health Association . The fact sheets they offer helped me realize that herpes was not as rare as I once thought.
Be realistic about search results: Google is both a treasure trove and a travesty. Beyond government and world health regulations, there are many writers , podcasters, and activists who share their real-life stories and experiences of living with genital herpes online. While these stories are integral to defeating stigma and normalizing the reality of genital herpes, there are some comments that do not always reflect a medically accurate perspective.
Practice self-care: When was the last time since your diagnosis that you treated yourself and your body to something rewarding? Whether its a physical fitness class, guided meditation, tickets to a sporting event, or something else, a you day can do wonders for your self-esteem and remind you that you are worthy of this life.
Be accountable: Know when you may need to ask for help, whether thats from a friend, loved one, or health care professional.
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