When To Talk With A Doctor
Talk with a doctor if you notice any sores on or around your genitals. Other STIs, like syphilis, can look like herpes but need different treatment. Treatment is needed to prevent complications and transmission.
Your doctor will let you know whether you should test for herpes or another STI, and they can help you get treatment if needed.
What To Do If Your Partner Has Genital Herpes
If your partner doesnt have the virus that causes genital herpes, taking an antiviral medicine every day can decrease the risk of passing the virus to your sexual partner. Even when taking medicine, you can still give your partner the virus. You can reduce this risk by skipping sex when you have sores and wearing a condom when you dont.
How Does Genital Herpes Affect Pregnancy
Herpes simplex virus doesnt affect fertility or your ability to conceive. Pregnant women diagnosed with HSV-2 should start a daily antiviral at 36 weeks of pregnancy as prescribed, to prevent outbreaks during delivery. If you have an active infection at the time of childbirth, you can pass the herpes virus to your baby. Neonatal herpes puts a baby at risk for blindness, brain damage, skin infections and death. Your healthcare provider will perform a cesarean section to lower this risk.
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Can You Cure Herpes
Unfortunately, theres no cure for herpes. The virus stays inactive in your body and activates from time to time to cause outbreaks, months or even years after youre first infected. This is when you get symptoms. Antiviral medication for herpes can only help control the outbreaks or suppress the virus.
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 Does Genital Herpes Look Like
While some people with genital herpes will never have any symptoms, other people can develop symptoms within a few weeks of being infected.
Often, before the lesions appear, patients describe a prodrome, characterized by a tingling or burning sensation in the area where the lesions will develop that can be noticed during urination, along with itching or discomfort in the genital area.
You can also have the following symptoms:
- Blisters on the mouth or lips
- Fever, headache or pain in the joints
- Trouble urinating
The symptoms of genital herpes often go away and come back as recurring outbreaks. For most people, the first outbreak is the worst, and can last from two to three weeks. Future flare-ups are often less severe and do not last as long. Still, some people shed the virus regularly. The following triggers can make outbreaks more likely to occur:
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Menstrual periods
Recurrent genital herpes is most common in the first year after the initial infection and decreases as time goes on.
In many cases, anti-herpes medicine can help patients. When a person experiences a prodrome and suspects a recurrence is going to happen, they begin taking anti-herpes medications that lessen symptoms and shorten the time of the outbreak.
Frequently Asked Questionsexpand All
People with HSV-2 infection have an increased risk of getting human immunodeficiency virus if they have sex with an HIV-infected partner. Taking suppressive therapy does not decrease this risk.
If a woman is pregnant and infected with HSV, it can be passed to the fetus during birth while passing through the womans infected birth canal. This is most likely to occur if a woman first becomes infected with HSV during pregnancy and in a woman who has her first outbreak late in pregnancy. But it also can occur during a recurrent outbreak in a woman who was infected before pregnancy, although the risk is much lower.
If you have sores or warning signs of an outbreak at the time of delivery, you may need to have a cesarean delivery to reduce chance of infection. The decision depends on many factors, including where the sores are on your body and whether the fetus would come into contact with them during delivery.
Yes, in most cases. The herpes virus cannot be passed to a baby through breast milk. However, the baby could get infected by touching a sore on your body. Make sure any sores that the baby could come into contact with are covered when you hold your baby or while breastfeeding. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after feeding your baby. If you have sores on your breast, you should not breastfeed your baby from that breast.
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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.
Im Pregnant How Could Genital Herpes Affect My Baby
If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, prenatal care visits are very important. Some research suggest that a genital herpes infection may lead to miscarriage or make it more likely to deliver your baby too early. You can pass herpes to your unborn child before birth, but it more commonly passes during delivery. This can lead to a deadly infection in your baby . It is important that you avoid getting genital herpes during pregnancy. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had a genital herpes diagnosis or symptoms. Also tell them about any possible exposure to genital herpes.
If you have genital herpes, you may need to take anti-herpes medicine towards the end of your pregnancy. This medicine may reduce your risk of having signs or symptoms of genital herpes when you deliver. At the time of delivery, your healthcare provider should carefully examine you for herpes sores. If you have signs or symptoms of genital herpes at delivery, a C-section is likely to occur.
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What Happens If I Dont Receive Treatment
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you touch your sores or fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another body part like 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, quickly wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading the infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your unborn fetus, or newborn baby. See Im pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby? for information about this.
How To Avoid Genital Herpes
Using condoms reduces the risk of contracting all sexually transmitted infections including genital herpes.
Genital herpes can be passed on even when there are not blisters present.
However, the blisters and sores are highly infectious, so if you or a partner have cold sores or genital herpes:
- avoid kissing when you, or a partner, have cold sores around the mouth
- avoid oral sex when you, or a partner, have mouth or genital sores
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How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? K doctors are able to treat herpes with medication, but patients must be diagnosed already. If youre worried that you might have genital herpes, a K doctor can refer you to a physician for an in-person visit. to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Healths AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Why Doctors Dont Automatically Test You For Herpes
OK, clearly herpes is super common. So why dont doctors automatically test for it when you ask to get tested for everything? To answer that question, its important to understand the difference between STI testing and STI screening. Testing is done when you have symptoms, whereas screening is done in the absence of symptomsjust to check to see if youve been exposed.
Doctors will screen for STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia even in the absence of symptoms. This is key from a public health perspective because catching these infections in time can prevent serious complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease. This happens when an untreated STI like gonorrhea or chlamydia infects reproductive organs, possibly leading to infertility.
Experts dont screen for herpes for a few reasons.
The U.S. Preventative Task Force has recommended against screening asymptomatic adolescents and adults for HSV infections. The rationale is that there is no health benefit thats been proven and there a couple of risks, Dr. Johnston says. One is a false positive test, and the second is a risk of anxiety is not associated with serious health outcomes, yet its still feared.
Even pregnant people who could theoretically risk passing the virus during childbirth are not screened unless they have a history of herpes outbreaks or a current outbreak, Peter Leone, M.D., of UNCs Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases, tells SELF.
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How Does A Doctor Test For Genital Herpes
Diagnosis. Your doctor usually can diagnose genital herpes based on a physical exam and the results of certain laboratory tests: Viral culture. This test involves taking a tissue sample or scraping of the sores for examination in the laboratory. Polymerase chain reaction test. PCR is used to copy your DNA from a sample of your blood,
Will I Have To Pay For The Test Out Of Pocket
Youll have to check with your insurance network to see whether at-home STI tests are covered.
Insurance does typically cover them, but sites like Everlywell recommend verifying the purchase with your insurance.
Additionally, some networks may reimburse you for your purchase.
However, most at-home testing sites arent currently partnered with any insurance companies, which means youll have to reach out yourself.
If you dont have insurance, youll likely have to pay for the test out of pocket. Some sites like Priority STD dont accept insurance, so its a flat rate of $99 regardless of your coverage.
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Testing For Genital Herpes
If you think you may have genital herpes you should make an appointment with your GP or local sexual health services.
If there are symptoms present such as blisters, sores and ulcers, your doctor or nurse may be able to make a diagnosis straight away.
If you have visible blisters, your doctor or nurse may take a swab for testing, to check if this is herpes and what type. This swab can also test for another STI which causes blisters called syphilis.
The genital herpes swab tests are very reliable, though if the ulcer is too dry then it may be less likely to find a positive result.
What Are Genital Herpes Infections Like
The first herpes infection is usually the worst one. Genital herpes infections come back over and over again. The first time, you may have one sore or many sores. The sores are painful. Some may be hidden inside the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from your bladder. The sores make urination painful. Some people also have a fever, a sore throat, deep tiredness and body aches. These problems might last three weeks.
After the first infection, HSV sores can come back any time. They often come back when you are sick with something else and when your immune system isnt strong enough. Genital herpes might come back 4 to 6 times a year at first. After a few years, the herpes sores hurt less. They come back less often.
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Are Canker Sores Caused By The Herpes Virus
Canker sores are not caused by the herpes virus or by any other virus. In fact, the cause of canker sores is unknown, although they may be triggered by a minor injury in your mouth from dental work or brushing too hard, an allergy, a vitamin B deficiency, stress, or a food intolerance. Some medical conditions, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease, may also cause canker sores, and they often occur in families, so it’s possible genetics or environment play a part, too.
Canker sores typically appear as small, round, or oval whitish sores with a red border, according to the Mayo Clinic. They typically occur on the tongue, inside the cheeks, inside the lips, or on the gums. The medical term for a canker sore is aphthous ulcer. Canker sores can be quite painful, but they usually heal within about two weeks without leaving any scarring.
Unlike cold sores, which usually occur outside the mouth, canker sores occur only inside the mouth. Like cold sores, canker sores are recurrent, but they are not contagious: You cant give a canker sore to another person. Canker sores occur more often in teenagers and young adults, and they are more common in women than men.
How Can I Prevent Transmitting Herpes
Although latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmitting most STIs by 98 percent, condoms dont prevent herpes transmission. This is because not all herpes sores occur in areas that are covered by a condom.
If youre experiencing an active outbreak, you can
- avoiding sexual activity until symptoms go away
- washing your hands thoroughly and applying medication with cotton swabs to reduce contact with sores
Taking a daily antiviral herpes medication can also help prevent transmission, shorten outbreaks, and manage symptoms.
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Can A Blood Test Diagnose Genital Herpes
Blood tests are not used to diagnose genital herpes. You may see blood tests for herpes advertised but these cannot be used to diagnose genital herpes. They check for antibodies. Having antibodies does not identify the part of the body that might be affected only a swab of a sore can do that. An asymptomatic facial cold sore infection will also cause the immune system to make antibodies. Antibody tests are not very reliable: one in three negative test results may be wrong one in ten positive results may be incorrect.
What Are The Different Types Of Herpes
There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV I and HSV II. HSV I commonly causes oral herpes, or cold sores. This virus can show up as an upper respiratory tract infection during early childhood. HSV II is the cause of most cases of genital herpes. However, it is possible for HSV I to cause genital herpes and HSV II to cause oral herpes.
Clinicians cannot tell the difference between the two types by physical examination alone, but there are differences between the two viruses. For example, genital herpes caused by HSV II is much more likely to recur. This diagnosis can be helpful in establishing a health care plan.
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Can Genital Herpes Be Treated
Your physician can prescribe different medications to help reduce your symptoms and speed up the healing of an outbreak. These medicines work best when you start them soon after an outbreak occurs.
To reduce pain during an outbreak:
- Sit in warm water in a portable bath or bathtub for about 20 minutes. Avoid bubble baths.
- Keep your genital area clean and dry, and avoid tight clothes.
- Take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Avoid aspirin.
Let your physician know if you are worried about your genital herpes. He or she can recommend a support group to help you cope with the virus.
Getting Through A New Genital Herpes Diagnosis
It is normal to feel upset and distressed as with any new diagnosis of a medical condition. Remember that herpes doesn’t discriminate and you don’t need to ‘blame’ yourself for what is actually a very common condition.
Make sure you have a follow up appointment with your doctor a week after your diagnosis. Ensure you are comfortable with the health provider you are using. Your local sexual health clinic are experts in caring for people with herpes and provide free check-ups, resources and counselling support. You may wish to take your partner or someone you trust to your appointment with you.
The first herpes episode is usually the most severe in terms of symptoms. Look after your physical comfort and after a few days you should start to feel symptoms ease.
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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 youre 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 dont have any visible symptoms is incredibly low, says OMahony.
The issue with asymptomatic shedding has been blown out of all proportion. Some people will shed tiny amounts of virus in between outbreaks, but its very unlikely theres enough present to cause an infection in somebody else.
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