Cold Sores: Common And Contagious
Cold sores are common and mostly harmless. Theyre caused by the herpes simplex virus, which spreads easily from person to person.
In some lucky people, the virus might cause a cold sore onceor twice and never rear its head again. But for other people, they come backagain and again, sometimes several times a year. And that gets old real fast.
They tend to go away on their own in 10 to 14 days, says Dr.Beers. But that doesnt make them any less annoying.
Herpes Myths To Stop Freaking Out About
A surprising number of people you know probably have herpes.
Shocked? You shouldnt be, since the virus is very common. According to the World Health Organization, 3.7 billion people under age 50 have herpes simplex virus type 1 thats 67 percent of the global population in that age bracket. Another 417 million people between ages 15 and 49 worldwide have herpes simplex virus type 2 .
Many people consider HSV-1 more benign, but it turns out theres not much difference between the two types of virus. While its true that HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted disease and can cause genital sores or blisters, type 1 can do the same thing.
One big misconception is that cold sores are caused by HSV-1 and genital herpes are always type 2, but thats not always the case, says Sarah Vensel, a physician assistant in San Francisco. Cold sores are so common theyve been normalized at this point. But genital herpes is sometimes the exact same virus just in a different location.
Not only is herpes incredibly common its also totally manageable. Allow us to set your mind at ease and debunk three widespread herpes myths:
Read Also: Can You Get Rid Of Herpes Simplex 1
Who Might Get Herpes Simplex
People of any age can contract herpes simplex. You are more likely to get the virus if you:
- Were assigned female at birth.
- Have had multiple sex partners.
- Started having sex at a young age.
- Have a history of any sexually transmitted infection .
- Have a weakened immune system.
- Dont use condoms for intercourse and dental dams for oral sex.
Who gets HSV-1, commonly known as oral herpes?
Anyone can get HSV-1. Most people contract HSV-1 during childhood. It spreads when an adult who has the virus has close contact with a child, such as when a family member kisses a child.
Who gets HSV-2, commonly known as genital herpes?
Genital herpes affects sexually active teens and adults of all genders and races. It can spread if you have multiple sexual partners and dont use condoms or dental dams.
People assigned female at birth are more at risk. Delicate vaginal tissue can tear, making it easier for the infection to get in. Black people who were AFAB are especially vulnerable, with an estimated 1 in 2 people AFAB between the ages of 14 and 49 infected with HSV-2.
Don’t Miss: Does Herpes Make Your Immune System Weak
Types Of Tests Used To Diagnose Herpes
There are a number of tests used to diagnose herpes, depending on whether lesions are present.
- Symptomatic testing: Samples taken from lesions can be used to detect the virus with a viral culture or nucleic acid amplification test . Of the two, NAAT is more sensitive . A polymerase chain reaction test may be used if herpes is suspected as the cause of a systemic or central nervous system infection, such as encephalitis or meningitis.
- Asymptomatic testing: A blood test may be used to detect HSV antibodies. This is an option for people who had a previous outbreak or had recent exposure. Very recent herpes infections may not be detected. Retesting in a few months may be necessary for accurate results. Some blood tests can also specifically identify an HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection.
Due to the high rates of false-positives, screening for genital herpes in asymptomatic adults and adolescents is not recommended.
How To Prevent Herpes
But most people have sex at some point in their lives, so knowing how to have safer sex is important. Using protection like condoms and dental dams when you have sex helps to lower your risk of getting an STD.
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.
Dont have sex with anyone during a herpes outbreak, because thats when it spreads most easily. But herpes can also spread when there are no sores or symptoms, so its important to use condoms and dental dams, even if everything looks and feels A-OK.
You May Like: Why Does Herpes Cause Blisters
Don’t Miss: How Contagious Is Herpes 1
Genital Herpes Symptoms & Treatment
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that causes infected sores or blisters.
Its caused by the herpes simplex virus which can be passed on through close genital contact.
You can reduce your chances of getting genital herpes by using condoms or dental dams during sex.
If you think you have symptoms of genital herpes you should see a healthcare worker, they can take a swab from a blister and test to confirm if its caused by the herpes simplex virus.
Treatment can help with herpes outbreaks, but the virus cannot be cured and will remain in the body. This means that blisters normally come back once in a while.
Dont Miss: Can You Tell How Long You Ve Had Herpes
Pay Attention To What You Eat
ASHA reports that some people believe foods containing the amino acid arginine, such as legumes and whole grains, can contribute to outbreaks. A few older studies, conducted in 1981 and 1987, showed a possible connection, but ASHA states there is no clinical evidence to support these studies. However, because triggers may vary based on the individual, keep track of the foods you eat to determine if there is a connection.
Read Also: How Do Doctors Test For Genital Herpes
Herpes Outbreak Frequency: How Often Do They Occur
People with symptomatic HSV-1 can have anywhere from several outbreaks per year to one every couple years or so, depending on the individual. Outbreaks tend to be worst during the initial herpes outbreak, as the body hasnt had time to produce its own immune response to herpes.
Oral HSV-1 outbreaks usually involve the development of cold sores around the lips and mouth. The sores usually begin as an itching, burning sensation before forming into small blisters over several days.
When cold sores caused by HSV-1 are open, they can weep out infectious fluid, leading to a high risk of transmission. Its best to abstain from kissing or sexual activity if you have an open cold sore, as theres a risk of infecting your partner with HSV-1 through direct oral contact. If your question is, “When is herpes contagious?” the answer is, “All the time.”Open cold sores are highly contagious, but even if you’re not experiencing an outbreak, it’s still possible to transmit herpes.
Our guide to kissing and cold sores goes into more detail about how you can reduce your HSV-1 transmission risk during an outbreak.
By acting quickly and treating a cold sore in the early stage, you may be able to limit its development and speed up the healing process. Our guide to how to get rid of a cold sore as quickly as possible and the list of foods to avoid during herpes outbreak covers simple tactics that you can use to quickly control an HSV-1 outbreak.
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, they’re less likely to seek out a diagnosis to confirm herpes.
Read Also: Can I Have Herpes And My Partner Not
How Long Do Herpes Outbreaks Last
The symptoms of herpes outbreaks can take up to a week to appear after contracting the infection. Once the herpes simplex virus becomes active, it begins to multiply, eventually coming to the surface of the skin along the nerve paths. Due to the nature of the bodyâs neural pathways, recurrences of genital herpes may not always present in the same place â although they will remain in the same area.
Genital herpes usually starts off with redness in the affected area, which is followed by small bumps that progress into fluid-filled blisters. Over time, the blisters will burst and become shallow skin ulcers which will then crust over, healing gradually within a couple of weeks.
The initial genital herpes flare-up is often the most painful, causing fever, fatigue and body aches. It is not uncommon for the first infection to last up to three weeks.
However, subsequent outbreaks tend to present fewer and less intense symptoms, and the frequency of break-outs can vary. A typical herpes outbreak will last between one to two weeks. Some individuals go weeks or months between flare-ups, while others potentially endure back-to-back episodes.
Does A Cold Sore On My Mouth Mean I Have Genital Herpes
No, a cold sore on your mouth usually means you have herpes simplex virus type 1 . You can get HSV-1 by kissing someone or sharing utensils, towels, razors, or lipstick with someone who has HSV-1.
HSV-1 cannot turn into HSV-2 , but you can get a cold sore on your mouth from HSV-2 if you give oral sex to someone with HSV-2. Cold sores caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 are contagious. You can spread it to other people or other parts of your body if you touch an open sore and then touch another part of your body. That means if you have a cold sore and give oral sex to someone, that person will get the herpes virus on his or her genitals.
Avoid touching your cold sore as much as possible. If you touch your cold sore, wash your hands right away to avoid spreading the infection to other parts of your body or other people.
Don’t Miss: Is Hiv And Herpes The Same
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.
Herbal Remedies May Also Offer Relief
Research supports the use of certain botanical remedies. You may want to try one or more of these:
Long dan xie gan tan This Chinese herbal formula has been used to quell symptoms and reduce herpes outbreaks. Its English name is clear liver fire pills. In at least one study, the formulawas shown to inhibit the activity of HSV-1 and HSV-2.
Chinese herbal medicine is always individualized, and there are other formulas that help too, so it is helpful to consult a licensed acupuncturist or herbalist before starting this formula, says Mindich.
Mushrooms Mushrooms boost the immune system, Mindich says, and thus can help prevent recurrent herpes outbreaks. She recommends mushroom products from the Immune & Protection collection of Host Defense and from Myko San. Eating shiitake mushrooms daily has also been found to have a positive effect on the immune system in a study published in April 2015 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Lemon balm This herb, which is related to mint, has traditionally been used to improve brain function and also has antiviral properties. Records concerning the medicinal use of lemon balm date back more than 2,000 years.
Lemon balm can be prepared and drunk as a tea. It can also be applied to the skin to both prevent herpes to prevent outbreaks and reduce symptoms. Research has shown that lemon balm oil directly counteracts herpes viruses.
Also Check: Where Does Herpes Virus Come From
What Is A Herpes Outbreak
A herpes outbreak happens when lesions called blisters or sores start to form on your genitals, bottom or mouth. If you have oral sex, you can also get oral herpes in the mouth. Your first outbreak of genital herpes will generally last longer with more severe symptoms, such as a fever or muscle aches.
Recurrent infections happen because the virus stays dormant in your body. Once triggered, the virus reactivates which leads to an outbreak. Triggers for recurrent infections can include being stressed, being on your period or feeling run down.
You might have an outbreak of herpes a long time after youve had unprotected sex. The virus can stay in your body and not cause symptoms straight away.
Also Check: How To Avoid Herpes Outbreaks
Genital Herpes: How Can You Prevent The Spread Of Herpes In Sexual Relationships
Herpes viruses are most likely to be transmitted during an outbreak, so it’s better to not have sex during this time. Herpes can also be passed on to others in symptom-free phases, though. This risk can be reduced considerably by using condoms.
If you have genital herpes, there are some things you can do on your own to protect your partner from infection. The main things are
- not having sex during an outbreak,
- using condoms during symptom-free phases, and
- talking openly with your partner about the disease.
Preventive treatment with antiviral medication may be an option for people who have genital herpes very frequently. This medication inhibits the activity of the virus, thereby lowering the risk of infecting partners.
Read Also: Can You Be Born With Herpes
Is There A Link Between Herpes And Hiv
Genital herpes is one of the most common co-infections for people with HIV. It can be a more serious condition if youâre HIV positive – outbreaks may last longer and blisters can be more severe. If youâre having recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes, you should have an HIV test, as this may be a sign of a weakened immune system caused by HIV.
Having an STI such as genital herpes can increase your risk of getting and passing on HIV. The blisters and sores provide an easy way for HIV to get into your body and cause an infection.
People with HIV who arenât on treatment or who have a lower CD4 count are more likely to get other infections, like herpes.
If youâre taking antiretroviral treatment for HIV, itâs important to discuss this with your doctor. They can advise how treatment for herpes may interact with your HIV drugs.
How To Get Rid Of Herpes The Conventional Way
For most people with herpes, the virus typically represents nothing more than an inconvenience however, the real risk is for immuno-compromised patients who cant easily manage infections. In these patients, such as those with HIV/AIDS, herpes simplex infection is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.
As of 2017, there is not currently a herpes vaccine available to prevent HSV-1 or HSV-2.
Doctors sometimes prescribe medications to help keep the herpes virus suppressed or to speed up healing of cold sores by reducing bacteria that can cause infections. Some medications that are now used to control herpes include:
- Nucleoside analogues and antiviral medications
- Creams/ointment to help lower pain and inflammation near the site of sores
- Over-the-counter painkillers to reduce aches, tenderness or fever
However, its important to understand that even with early detection and prescription medications, either form of the herpes virus cannot be totally cured so transmission is always still possible. Medications for viruses dont always work long term and are not a cure-all.
You May Like: How Would I Know If I Have Herpes
Treatment Options For Genital Herpes
Acyclovir was the first antiviral agent to be used in the treatment of genital herpes, and as such, is the most extensively studied of the antiviral agents currently available. This drug is available in topical, oral, and intravenous forms . In the distant past, topical acyclovir was used to treat recurrent genital herpes, but its ineffectiveness has been known for quite some time. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study found that after application of topical acyclovir 6 times daily for 5 days, only the duration of virus shedding from lesions was reduced compared to placebo. Differences between time to lesion crusting, lesion healing, new lesion formation, and cessation of pain were non-significant .
Intravenous acyclovir remains the most effective form of treatment for a primary genital herpes infection, leading to significant reduction in time to cessation of viral shedding and pain. Time to lesion healing is also 6 days faster than with placebo alone . However, as IV administration of acyclovir requires hospitalization, this route is reserved for patients with life-threatening disease or systemic complications .
Should You Get Tested
Its a good idea for the partners of people with genital herpes to have a blood test for herpes antibodies. This can help them to decide whether to use antiviral medication as protection, for example. Both partners may already have the same virus type. Then theres no reason to take medication to protect each other.
If one of the partners has HSV-1 or cold sores and the other one has HSV-2 or genital herpes, they could infect one another with the other virus. If one partner has herpes viruses in their body and the other doesnt, condoms are one way to prevent infection.
Also Check: What Cures Herpes Simplex 2