When To See A Doctor Or Visit A Sexual Health Clinic
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection , meaning that the most appropriate place to seek treatment may be a sexual health clinic. Most sexual health clinics operate a walk-in service, avoiding the need for an appointment. In most cases, oral herpes and the other forms of the condition are not STIs, meaning a general doctorâs surgery is the most appropriate place to seek treatment.
Seek treatment when any of the signs or symptoms of herpes appear.
Risk For Genital Herpes
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , about 1 in 6 Americans ages 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. While HSV-2 remains the main cause of genital herpes, HSV-1 has significantly increased as a cause, most likely because of oral-genital sex. Except for people in monogamous relationships with uninfected partners, everyone who is sexually active is at risk for genital herpes.
Risk factors for genital herpes include:
- History of an STD
- First sexual intercourse at an early age
- High number of sexual partners
- Low socioeconomic status
Women are more susceptible to HSV-2 infection because herpes is more easily transmitted from men to women than from women to men. About 1 in 5 women, compared to 1 in 9 men, have genital herpes. African-American women are at particularly high risk.
People with compromised immune systems, such as those who have HIV, are at very high risk for genital herpes. These people are also at risk for more severe complications from herpes. Drugs that suppress the immune system, and organ transplantation, can also weaken the immune system and increase the risk for contracting genital herpes.
Whos At Risk For Stds
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for an STD, regardless of gender, race, social class, or sexual orientation. That said, teenagers and young adults acquire STDs more easily than older people. By age 25, half of sexually active adults get an STD. Having multiple sex partners also raises the risk. The CDC has noted that some STDs are on the rise in men who have sex with men, including syphilis and LGV.
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Treatment Of An Initial Outbreak
The first outbreak of genital herpes is usually much worse than recurrent outbreaks. Symptoms tend to be more severe and to last longer. Your provider will prescribe one of the three antiviral medications, which you will take for 7 to 10 days. If your symptoms persist, treatment may be extended. An acyclovir ointment may also be prescribed for topical treatment of initial genital herpes.
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How Can I Avoid Getting Genital Herpes
No vaccine can protect you from HSV infection, but you can do some things to prevent getting infected:
Limit the number of sexual partners you have in your lifetime.
Make sure that you and your sexual partner use condoms every time you have sex.
Consider sexual abstinence .
Donât have any kind of sex with someone who has herpes sores, itching or scabs, and remember that genital herpes can be spread even when there is no sign of a sore.
Always wash your hands after touching a cold sore.
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Recurrent Episodes Of Genital Herpes
Recurrences are usually less painful and shorter in duration than the first episode of genital herpes. Over time, episodes usually become less frequent and may eventually stop altogether. Infections caused by HSV1 are less likely to recur in the genital area than infections caused by HSV2.
Recurrences may be triggered by:
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Other Symptoms You May Experience
Some people get during a herpes infection. They ache and have a fever. Having around the area of the outbreak also is common. People with genital herpes may have a burning sensation when urinating. Sometimes they have trouble urinating.
If you have or a gritty feeling in your eyes, itâs possible that the has spread to your eyes. Fluid leaking from the eye or sensitivity to light are other signs of an related to herpes. Get immediate medical attention if you think you have a herpes infection in your eyes. Permanent damage is possible.
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When Is Herpes Most Contagious
Lets start by talking about when herpes is contagious. It might sound obvious, but the first fact to know is this: Herpes is most contagious during an outbreak. That goes for genital herpes and cold sores from oral herpes.
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For genital herpes, you should stop having sex at the first sign of any impending outbreak. According to the World Health Organization, an outbreak may be preceded by mild tingling or shooting pain in the hips, legs, and buttocks .
If your doctor has prescribed you medication, this is the best time to take it to stop the outbreak in its tracks. The CDCs 2015 sexually transmitted disease guidelines state that while Valtrex may be used to treat HSV-2, Acyclovir or Famciclovir can also be used .
You should generally wait until after a herpes outbreak heals and resolves to resume having sex. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, sexual contact should be avoided until the sores dry and the scabs fall off, which takes approximately 10-14 days .
While condoms can help reduce the risk of spreading herpes, they are not completely safe. Any affected areas not covered by the condom may still provide a way for herpes to spread through skin-to-skin contact . Even after a herpes outbreak heals, the risk of transmission may still be present due to viral shedding.
How To Avoid Transmitting Hsv
If you have a cold sore, be sure to wash your hands after touching it and be especially careful to avoid touching your own eyes after touching your cold sore. It is the fluid contained in the blisters that is considered to be the most infectious. While you have a cold sore it is also important to avoid:
- sharing toothbrushes
- sharing drinking glasses or bottles
- sharing cutlery
- sharing towels or other personal items
- close contact with newborn and young babies
- close contact with children with burns or eczema
- close contact with people with suppressed immune systems.
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When To Call The Doctor
Even though HSV sores can hurt and be unsightly, most cases of herpes do not cause serious illness. The sores go away in a few days. Contact the health provider if:
- Sores are present and you think it might be a first herpes infection. The diagnosis is usually made by examining the sores. If the sores have not healed, sometimes a laboratory test is done.
- Sores do not heal by themselves or show signs of infection such as pus, spreading redness or fever.
- Sores are near the eyes.
- You have another health condition with a weakened immune system.
How To Recognize 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 16 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 646,027 times.
Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. It has two variations, the HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 usually manifests as a cold sore, or oral lesion, but may sometimes appear on the genitals. HSV-2 refers to genital herpes. HSV-2 is the most common viral sexually transmitted infection in the US and causes infections of the skin and mucous membranes, rectum, eyes, and central nervous system. Herpes is a lifelong and incurable STI.XResearch sourceA Wald, Genital HSV-1 Infections, Sexually Transmitted Infections, 2005 June, 82, 189-190 If you think you may have the virus, follow a few simple steps to recognize if you have herpes.
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Can Genital Herpes Come Back
Yes. Genital herpes symptoms can come and go, but the virus stays inside your body even after all signs of the infection have gone away. The virus becomes active from time to time, leading to an outbreak. Some people have outbreaks only once or twice. Other people may have four or five outbreaks within a year. Over time, the outbreaks usually happen less often and are less severe.
Experts do not know what causes the virus to become active. Some women say the virus comes back when they are sick, under stress, out in the sun, or during their period.
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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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What Are The Symptoms Of Herpes Simplex
Many people with the infection never experience any herpes symptoms. If you do notice symptoms, youll experience them differently depending on whether youre having your first herpes outbreak or a repeat outbreak. Recurring symptoms are usually milder than the first outbreak. Symptoms dont last as long with later outbreaks. Some people may only have one or two outbreaks during their lifetime. Others may have as many as four or five outbreaks a year.
People who do have herpes symptoms may experience:
- Cold sores around their lips, mouth or tongue. They may look crusty or like fluid-filled blisters.
- Tingling, itching or burning.
- Pain while urinating.
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.
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Tingling Or Pain Before Blisters Form
If you know you’ve been exposed to herpes, you may want to watch for “prodromal” symptoms. “About 50% of people will have symptoms such as itching, tingling, or pain on genital skin before blisters or sores appear,” said Dr. Shim. Usually, you’ll experience an outbreak later, but it’s possible to have this tingling or itching and have no sores emerge.
What Are The Signs Of A Herpesoutbreak Coming On
Astime goes by, the severity and duration of herpes will also decrease. People withrecurrent outbreaks may recognize when a herpes outbreak coming on. Often, itappears with the following signs and symptoms:
- Localized pain in the face or thegenital area
- Tingling, itching or burning sensations
Thesesymptoms may present hours or days before the sores or blisters appear. A fewsymptoms only occur in the first outbreak and rarely occur in recurrentoutbreaks. These are:
ApplyProsurx cream to the affected area two to three times a day. It can help lessenthe pain, itching, burning and tingling associated with herpes. Antiviralnanoparticles in Prosurx can attack virus both on the surface and lower layersof your skin. Therefore, it can eliminate viruses more effectively, preventingrecurrent outbreaks. Prosurx is also made with natural, antiviral ingredientslike tea tree, and aloe Vera. These can help soothe the skin irritation andpromote healing and recovery. Many people use Prosurx at the early signs of anoutbreak and notice that no blisters occur. To get the best results, you shouldfollow the directions exactly.
Healthy foods for herpes
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How Herpes Is Treated
There is no cure for herpes.
- The health care provider may prescribe antiviral medicine to help speed up the healing process. It also shortens the time when the virus can spread from the herpes sores.
- Pain may be treated with medicine such as Tylenol or Motrin or by applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the affected area.
- If sores are in the mouth, avoid foods high in acid, like citrus fruits and juices.
- The infected area should be kept clean and dry.
- Wash hands often and avoid touching the sores to prevent spreading the virus.
- It is important to stay healthy by getting enough rest, having proper nutrition and exercise and managing stress well.
Who Might Get Genital Herpes
Genital herpes affects teens and adults of all genders and races. It can spread if you have multiple sexual partners and dont use condoms.
Women are more at risk. Delicate vaginal tissue can tear, making it easier for the infection to get in. Black women are especially vulnerable. An estimated 1 in 2 African-American women between the ages of 14 and 49 is infected with HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes.
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Herpes And Newborn Infants
Herpes infection in a newborn can cause a range of symptoms, including skin rash, fevers, mouth sores, and eye infections. If left untreated, neonatal herpes is a very serious and even life-threatening condition. Neonatal herpes can spread to the brain and central nervous system, causing encephalitis and meningitis. It also can lead to intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and death. Herpes can also spread to internal organs, such as the liver and lungs.
Infants infected with herpes are treated with acyclovir, an antiviral drug. They usually receive several weeks of intravenous acyclovir treatment, often followed by several months of oral acyclovir. It is important to treat babies quickly, before the infection spreads to the brain and other organs.
Stage : Prodrome Or Viral Shedding
This is the beginning of the replicative phase of the herpes virus lifecycle. Within the first few days of an outbreak, the virus will make contact with the skin and begin replicating as it prepares to break out and infect other hosts. This initiates an inflammatory response that causes you to feel tightness, tingling, itchiness, burning sensation, and possibly some swelling. You may or may not be able to see physical symptoms at this stage.
You are considered contagious during this period and should avoid physical contact with other people or shared objects .
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Eczema Or Herpes: How Can You Tell The Difference
Its often easy to distinguish between eczema and herpes because of their distinctly different symptoms. While herpes triggers defined blisters that burst and scab over, usually around the mouth or genitals, eczema causes rough, dry rashes in other areas of the body.
To distinguish between herpes and severe eczema that has produced open sores, consider the symptoms that occurred before the sores appeared and the location of the sores.
What Do Genital Herpes Symptoms Look Like
Other symptoms can include:
- tingling or burning around the genitals
- feeling unwell, with aches, pains and flu-like symptoms
- unusual vaginal discharge in women.
Many people with genital herpes wont get any symptoms, or may get symptoms for the first time months or even years after they were infected.
For most people, the blisters go away within one to two weeks. Although the outbreaks clear-up by themselves, the virus stays in the body. This means that people usually get blisters again which is called having a recurrent outbreak. Outbreaks usually become shorter and less severe over time.
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How Is Herpes Simplex Treated
Some people have few to no herpes outbreaks and choose not to have treatment. But many people prefer to use medications that shorten outbreaks and reduce symptoms.
During an outbreak, you may use an antiviral ointment or cream to help lessen your symptoms and help them go away faster, but it only works if you start it soon after you start an outbreak. Many people with HSV-2 take daily oral medications to keep outbreaks at bay.
Your provider may prescribe a topical medication or oral medication such as: