Basic Facts About Herpes
- There are two main types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1, most commonly associated with cold sores, and HSV-2, most commonly known as genital herpes.
- While HSV-1 mainly causes oral herpes, it can also cause genital herpes and be transmitted through oral sex.
- Most oral and genital herpes infections are asymptomatic ââ that means you can be living with herpes but never experience an outbreak.
- Symptoms of herpes include painful blisters or ulcers at the site of infection.
- While there is no cure for herpes, the disease is quite manageable with antiviral treatment and topical creams.
- Herpes is most contagious during symptomatic outbreaks, but it can still be transmitted without symptoms.
While this article is focused on how to live with herpes, you can learn more about the actual herpes virus here.
There’s Not One Right Way To Tell Partners About Your Status And It Might Not Go As Planned
My herpes status is public, so a formal disclosure isn’t always necessary with new partners. But it wasn’t always that way.
Right after I was diagnosed, I remember feeling the urgent need to tell my then-partner that I had not only tested positive for herpes, but that I suspected that it originated from him.
I sent the cliché, We need to talk in person,” text. He talked around it and said he was busy, and my urgency quickly became palpable. He initially suspected that I was pregnant, but was surprisingly empathetic when he learned the reality of the situation.
As much as we try to plan disclosure, it might unfold in ways you arent prepared for or didnt predict. While in-person disclosures may work for some, these situations might present safety issues for others. Texting is also a viable option. My only caution in sharing an STI status via text message or dating app, like anything we share or post online, is that these conversations can be captured in a screenshot, shared, and misrepresented.
Still, disclosing digitally can ease anxiety for some, and resources can be linked within the text for partners to do their own research on having sex with a herpes-positive person.
Does Herpes Affect Pregnancy
If you contracted genital herpes long before getting pregnant, itâs unlikely that youâll pass it on to your baby during childbirth. However, itâs still important to tell your doctor that you have genital herpes if youâre pregnant to ensure that the baby remains healthy.
Herpes infections that start late in pregnancy carry more risks. Studies suggest that having genital herpes while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage and early birth, making prenatal care essential. While the risk is low, you can also pass herpes to the baby if you have sores during vaginal childbirth, which can lead to eye problems and even brain damage in newborns.
If you contract herpes during pregnancy, your doctor will closely monitor your progress and may recommend taking herpes medication to help reduce the risk of passing it to your baby during birth. They might also recommend delivering via C-section if you have sores in your genital area when you go into labor.
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Mental Health Care For Herpes
After you receive treatment for your first outbreak, the next thing to do is take care of your mental health and learn how to cope with your diagnosis.
You may want to find a support group in your area for people living with herpes. Meetup hosts the following herpes support groups in Toronto and Vancouver:
Joining a support group will accomplish two things:
- Build your knowledge of what itâs like to live with herpes
- Show you that youâre not alone in your experience with herpes
If you need to speak to a counsellor about your herpes diagnosis, you can also call the Ontario Sexual Health Infoline at 1-800-668-2437.
What Do I Do If I Find Out I Have Herpes
Its normal to have lots of different feelings after you find out that you have herpes. You might feel mad, embarrassed, ashamed, or upset at first. But youll probably feel a lot better as time goes by, and you see that having herpes doesnt have to be a big deal. People with herpes have relationships and live totally normal lives. There are treatments for herpes, and theres a lot you can do to make sure you dont give herpes to anyone you have sex with.
Millions and millions of people have herpes youre definitely not alone. Most people get at least one STD in their lifetime, and having herpes or another STD is nothing to feel ashamed of or embarrassed about. It doesnt mean youre dirty or a bad person it means youre a normal human who got a really common infection. The reality is that herpes can happen to anybody who has ever been kissed on the lips or had sex thats a LOT of people.
Herpes isnt deadly and it usually doesnt cause any serious health problems. While herpes outbreaks can be annoying and painful, the first flare-up is usually the worst. For many people, outbreaks happen less over time and may eventually stop completely. Even though the virus hangs around in your body for life, it doesnt mean youll be getting sores all the time.
And tell anyone you have sex with that you have herpes. Its not the easiest conversation, but its an important one. Here are some tips:
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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.
What Happens If Herpes Is Not Treated
Herpes can be painful, but it generally does not cause serious health problems like other STDs can.
Without treatment, you might continue to have regular outbreaks, or they could only happen rarely. Some people naturally stop getting outbreaks after a while. Herpes typically does not get worse over time.
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My Partner Has Herpes How Can I Avoid Getting It And And Still Have A Fulfilling Sex Life
I just found out the guy Ive been seeing for a couple weeks has herpes. Im full of questions, but one question I keep dwelling on is, how can people get pregnant without passing on herpes to their partner? How can I avoid getting herpes and still have a fulfilling sex life with him?
Its normal to have complicated feelings after you find out that your partner has herpes. Millions of people are living with herpes, and sharing your concerns with your partner and educating yourself on how its spread are good ways to protect yourself.
Genital herpes is spread from skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it including . Herpes can live on areas of your body that arent protected by condoms , so condoms wont always protect you from herpes. But they do lower your chances of getting herpes.
Here are other ways to avoid getting herpes from your partner:
Talk with your partner about taking herpes medicine every day, which can lower their chances of spreading herpes.
Dont have sex during a herpes outbreak, even with a condom. There may be sores on places the condom doesnt cover. Wait until the sores are totally gone, and the scabs heal and fall off.
Putting Herpes In Perspective
Right now, theres no cure for herpes. This means that if you contract HSV-1 or HSV-2, the virus will remain in your body for the rest of your life, or until a cure is discovered.
Finding this out can be devastating news, especially from the perspective of your dating and romantic life. After all, you have an incurable, lifelong virus that spreads through either oral or sexual contacttwo things that, last we checked, are pretty important in every romantic relationship.
The reality is that dating with herpes probably isnt as difficult as you think it is. Every day, millions of people around the world are completely able to have normal, healthy relationships in spite of their HSV-1 or HSV-2 status.
One easy way to put the herpes virus in context is through statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control , nearly 50 percent of people ages 14 to 49 in the U.S. have HSV-1, and roughly 12 percent of the same age group have HSV-2.
The point is, its a very common virus, and theres nothing bad, unclean or unsafe about you if youre infected.
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Dating With Herpes And Talking To Sexual Partners About Herpes
Dating with herpes doesnât need to be a big deal. Most people with genital herpes can still have satisfying sex lives.
Yes, there are some things youâll need to do to date responsibly and take care of your sexual partners â like using protection, even when youâre not experiencing an outbreak â but that doesnât mean your dating life will be nothing but awkward moments and heartbreak.
The most difficult part of having a conversation about herpes with a sexual partner is getting started. You may fear the other personâs initial reaction more than anything else, rather than the conversation that happens after theyâve had time to digest new information.
Here are some conversation prompts to help you get over that initial hump:
How Is Genital Herpes Diagnosed
To find out if someone has genital herpes, health care providers do tests on:
- fluid from a sore
People with genital herpes need to tell recent, current, and future sex partners about their infection. Because someone may never have symptoms or may not have symptoms for months to years after infection, a current partner may not be the source of the infection.
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Herpes Coming Out Prompts: Existing Relationships
Option 1: âI have some news to share â I found out that I carry the herpes virus, and I think itâs important for you to get tested. I want to make it clear that Iâm not blaming you for my diagnosis, because a lot of people have herpes without any symptoms. Letâs talk about how you feel after youâve had some time to think.â
Option 2: âI need to have a chat about some news I got recently â I found out I have herpes. Iâve talked to a doctor and Iâve done some research, and itâs not a major problem â but youâll need to get tested and weâll need to start using protection. How do you feel about this?â
You’re Not Limited To A Herpes
I remember one particular night, sitting on the floor of my bedroom and reluctantly signing up for a herpes-positive dating site. It felt like my only viable option. Signing up felt embarrassing. It was another website filled with smiling partners claiming to have found love despite their positive status.
While some people appreciate these types of apps, I quickly learned that it was not the right space for me. As years passed and my understanding around stigma grew, I couldn’t help but feel that herpes and other STI-specific dating apps might be further reinforcing social stigmas.
With transparency and communication, STI-positive people can find love with STI-negative partners. I know, because I’ve experienced it.
Emily L. Depasse is a sexologist and sex educator redefining the narratives around sexually transmitted infections . Follow her on and @sexelducation.
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Is It Safe To Breastfeed If I Have Genital Herpes
Yes as long as there isnt an open lesion on your 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.
Living With Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is a condition many people live with and it usually does not greatly affect their daily lives. If youve recently been diagnosed with herpes and would like to speak to someone, there are various online support groups.
Treatment and self-care options exist to ease symptoms with antiviral medications being the most common option.
Living with genital herpes means you need to take extra precautions when having sex with other people.
If you have HSV and are looking to become pregnant, let your doctor know.
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How To Know If You Have Herpes
This article was medically reviewed by Lacy Windham, MD. Dr. Windham is a board certified Obstetrician & Gynecologist in Tennessee. She attended medical school at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis and completed her residency at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in 2010, where she was awarded the Most Outstanding Resident in Maternal Fetal Medicine, Most Outstanding Resident in Oncology, and Most Outstanding Resident Overall.There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 842,512 times.
Research shows that around 1 out of every 6 people has some form of herpes.XTrustworthy SourceCenters for Disease Control and PreventionMain public health institute for the US, run by the Dept. of Health and Human ServicesGo to source The herpes simplex viruses are the viruses responsible for oral and genital herpes infections, and they can cause sores, itching, painful urination, and vaginal discharge. Although doctors can treat symptoms, ease pain, and reduce the possibility of spreading the virus, herpes cannot be cured. Studies show that you can find out if you have herpes by examining high risk behaviors, recognizing the symptoms, and getting tested by a medical professional.XTrustworthy SourceFamilyDoctor.orgFamily-focused medical advice site run by the American Academy of Family DoctorsGo to source
Why Genital Herpes Comes Back
Genital herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex. Once you have the virus, it stays in your body.
It will not spread in your body to cause blisters elsewhere. It stays in a nearby nerve and causes blisters in the same area.
If you can, avoid things that trigger your symptoms.
Triggers can include:
- surgery on your genital area
- a weakened immune system for example, from having chemotherapy for cancer
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Ask The Right Questions
While you should devote time and attention to answering your partnerâs questions, it should still be a two-way conversation. Come prepared with a few questions to ask your partner to avoid miscommunication and get you both on the same page.
Asking about their willingness to discuss sexual health-related topics is a great place to start. If they tell you that theyâre uncomfortable with the conversation or shut down after learning about your diagnosis, thatâs a good sign that you may need to take a break and regroup later.
Once youâre both ready to talk, it can be helpful to ask about the date of their last STI test and what their results were, if you havenât already. If itâs been a while or theyâve had new sexual partners since then, you could suggest scheduling an STI test. Learning about their STI status not only gives them more control over their health, but also helps inform conversations about having safe sex in the future.
Learn To Recognize Warning Signs
Once you start experiencing symptoms you can transmit the virus, so paying attention to early symptoms can help reduce the risk of transmitting it to a partner.
Along with that sort-of-itchy, sort-of-painful tingling feeling that I get before the sores appear, I notice tenderness in my mouth, fatigue, a low fever, and aches in my legs.
You might only get these symptoms with the first outbreak, but they can return. Returning symptoms are usually more mild than before.
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Prioritize Your Mental Health
Being diagnosed with HSV can cause stress, anxiety, and other feelings that can sometimes be difficult to deal with. If youâve recently been diagnosed with HSV and are feeling overwhelmed, youâre not alone. It’s OK to take time to process your emotions and reach out for help if needed.
If you have medical-related concerns, your doctor may be able to ease your mind by going over treatment options and explaining the risks. You can also ask for additional resources or a reference for a mental health professional who can help you manage feelings of stress or anxiety.
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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Preparing To Talk To Partner
Before you talk about herpes and sexual health with a partner, make sure you are prepared to address any misinformation or misconceptions he or she might have. How well informed are you? Do you know the basic steps to reduce the risk to your partner? Do you know the facts about herpes? You want to feel confident and knowledgeable before you can explain the infection to someone else. Be prepared with information from ASHA and other reliable sources.