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.
What Does Herpes Look Like
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Herpes sores can affect many areas of the body, including the mouth, genitals, and eyes. Knowing what herpes looks like across the body can help people diagnose the condition.
Herpes is a skin condition caused by the herpes simplex virus. The symptoms include sores that come and go over time. Different types of herpes affect different body parts.
This article will explain what herpes is, how people get it, and what herpes looks like with pictures.
Most people with HSV are asymptomatic, meaning they will not experience any symptoms. Others will notice sores or lesions. These sores look like blisters filled with fluid. Over a few days, the sores break open, ooze, and form a crust before healing.
People may also notice a tingling, itching, or burning feeling a few days before the sores appear. Some people may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as:
Someone who has contracted the virus will usually have their first sores, or an outbreak, between 2 and 20 days later. The sores may last up to a week or 10 days.
An outbreak may involve a single sore or a cluster of sores. They often affect the skin around the mouth, the genitals, or the rectum. The blisters can take between 2 and 4 weeks to heal.
The symptoms will usually reappear from time to time, though they do not tend to be as severe as the first time.
Is Genital Herpes Contagious
Yes. When blisters or crusts are present, the virus can be passed by direct contact to others. But the virus can be just as contagious even when you cannot see any sores. Using condoms helps to prevent the spread of infectionbut condoms cannot protect you completely. Because HSV also causes cold sores on the mouth, a person with cold sores can spread HSV through mouth contact with the genital area of another person. The virus can also be carried on hands from the mouth to another area. You can even spread the virus to yourself by touching cold sores on your mouth and then touching other areas of your body.
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Herpes Is A Common Infection
Herpes is a super-common infection that stays in your body for life. More than half of Americans have oral herpes, and about 1 out of 6 Americans has genital herpes. So chances are a few people you know are living with herpes.
Theres no cure for herpes, but medication can ease your symptoms and lower your chances of giving the virus to other people. And the good news is, outbreaks usually become less frequent over time, and even though herpes can sometimes be uncomfortable and painful, its not dangerous. People with herpes have relationships, have sex, and live perfectly healthy lives.
What Can I Do If I Have Herpes Simplex 2
Many people who find out they have herpes feel depressed knowing they’ll always have the virus and can give it to others. But you arent alone. Herpes is one of the most common STIs, both in the U.S. and worldwide. If you have herpes, you should:
- Learn all you can about it. Information will help you to manage your disease and feel better about yourself.
- Talk about your illness with your doctor.
If you have herpes, you can still:
- Have sex if you use a condom or dental dam , and you tell your partner about your illness. Some couples, who have sexual relations only with each other, may choose not to use condoms even though one partner has herpes. Because each situation is different, you should ask your doctor if this is the right choice for you in your relationship.
- Have children. People with herpes can still give birth to healthy babies. If you have herpes and plan to have children, discuss your illness with your healthcare provider.
If you have herpes, you should also get checked for HIV and other STIs .
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Can I Treat Herpes Simplex At Home
Avoiding known triggers, such as illness or stress, can help reduce how often you have herpes outbreaks.
How can I ease my symptoms during an outbreak of HSV-1 ?
- Over-the-counter creams such as L-lysine, benzocaine or docosanol .
- Applying ice to blisters or sores.
How can I ease my symptoms during an outbreak of HSV-2 ?
- Apply an ice pack to your genitals. Wrap the ice pack in a washcloth or apply it over your underwear.
- Keep your genitals dry. Wear cotton or other nonsynthetic underpants and avoid tight-fitting clothes. Moist sores take longer to heal.
- Soak in a warm bath.
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain.
- Topical 1% or 2% lidocaine may be used as a topical analgesic.
What Does Genital Herpes Look Like When It’s Healing
As your herpes outbreak comes to an end, your herpes sores will begin to crust over, scab like a small cut, and eventually go away. The sores can take a week or more to heal.
Your nurse or doctor can give you herpes medicine to help prevent or treat outbreaks, and there are ointments that can help make your sores heal faster and hurt less.
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Can Herpes Be Prevented Or Avoided
The best way to prevent getting herpes is to not have sex with anyone who has the virus. It can be spread even when the person who has it isnt showing any symptoms. If your partner has herpes, there is no way of knowing for sure that you wont get it.
If you are infected, there is no time that is completely safe to have sex and not spread herpes. If you have herpes, you must tell your sex partner. You should avoid having sex if you have any sores. Herpes can spread from one person to another very easily when sores are present.
You should use condoms every time you have sex. They can help reduce the risk of spreading herpes. But its still possible to spread or get herpes if youre using a condom.
Syphilis: A Greater Health Threat Than Herpes
Syphilis and genital herpes are both STDs that can cause sores in the genital area. Like oral herpes, syphilis can also cause mouth sores, which often clear without treatment. But despite these similarities in symptoms, the two diseases differ in their causes syphilis is caused by a bacteria and herpes by a virus and the health risks they pose.
For most people the exceptions being infants and people who have weakened immune systems or who are chronically ill herpes is more of an annoyance than a dangerous disease. But untreated syphilis can lead to severe complications, including bone, joint, liver, heart, and brain damage.
There are four stages of syphilis, according to the CDC, each with different signs and symptoms. In the primary stage, a painless sore or sores develop where the bacteria first entered the skin or mucous membrane. In the secondary stage, you may develop a skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. In the latent stage of syphilis, there are no signs or symptoms, and in the tertiary stage, the bacterial infection can damage the heart, brain, and other organs of the body.
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How To Prevent Cold Sores
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Prevention of cold sores largely depends on how an individual cares for themselves by observing and also keeping measures to the required levels. These include self-care and cautionary steps such as
- Avoiding kissing with individuals diagnosed with herpes simplex on lips
- Keeping the sores clean with plain cool water
- If it is discovered that sunlight triggers recurrence you better stay away from sun when outdoors
- Avoid making skin contacts especially with one who has had HSV reactivated
- It will also be of help if you stopped sharing towels, lipstick and other lip cosmetic products
Sometimes antiviral medicines , when taken as per your doctors descriptions, will help avoid the recurrence of a cold sore on the lip in the future.
What’s Involved In Herpes Testing
If there are blisters or sores, a healthcare provider may gently swab the area to take a fluid sample and test it. If there are no sores, but you are concerned you may have been exposed, a blood test may done. Herpes tests are not normally recommended unless you have symptoms.
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How Common Are False Positives For Herpes
False-positive test results refer to a test result that says a person has a certain condition or disease when in actual fact, they don’t. This can happen with a number of different types of diagnostic tests and herpes testing and other sexual health tests are no exception. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “False-positive HSV-2 results can happen, especially in people who are at low risk for a herpes infection.”
It’s of course important to avoid false-positive test results for life-long infections such as herpes, which is why using high-quality testing kits and reliable accredited laboratories are essential to avert any confusion or false results.
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of contracting an STD is with regular screening. This can be done by taking a trip to your doctors office or from the comfort of your own home with an at-home lab test.
LetsGetCheckeds at-home Herpes Test can detect herpes simplex antibodies for either HSV-1 or HSV-2. Online results will be available within 5 days and our dedicated medical team will be there to offer a helping hand should you have any questions.
You should consider getting tested if:
- You used a needle or syringe to inject drugs into your body that someone with herpes has already used
- You become sexually active
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.
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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.
Is It Herpes Or Something Else
Herpes has a number of recognisable symptoms, but it is easily mistaken for other conditions. Read on to find out about the virus, and how it can be recognised.
Is it herpes or something else?
Herpes is one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections around 67% of adults under the age of fifty are thought to be infected by HSV-1, which is more commonly known as oral herpes. HSV-2 is often referred to as genital herpes, though the HSV-1 strain can also be spread to the genitals.
Herpes can easily spread during any form of sexual contact, and although they provide significant protection from the spread of STIs, condoms are not able to provide full protection from the herpes virus.
Many people who have been infected with the herpes virus can go for months – or even years – without experience any symptoms, which is one of the reasons why herpes is easily spread between partners. It is much more likely that an individual will contract the infection from a partner currently experiencing symptoms , but it is still possible to catch herpes even when no symptoms are present. These symptoms will include:
- A burning sensation, or itching, around the affected area
- Pain when urinating
- Cold sores around the mouth
- Flu-like symptoms during the initial outbreak
Certain conditions can be confused with the herpes virus. Read more about the most common issues, their symptoms, and how to set your mind at ease.
Urinary Tract Infections
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What Else Should I Know
Genital herpes is a lifelong condition, but there are ways to manage it. If your teen has genital herpes, you can help them learn to live with the infection. Talk to your teen about:
- taking medicines to stop outbreaks or make them less frequent and less severe
- learning how to reduce the risk of spreading genital herpes by taking medicines, always using a condom during sex, and avoiding sex during outbreaks
- talking to partners before starting a sexual relationship
How Do Symptoms Compare
For cold sores, symptoms appear in stages, beginning with redness, inflammation, and discomfort. Angular cheilitis has less defined stages with more overlap of various symptoms.
Angular cheilitis most often occurs in the corners of the mouth, while herpes may affect parts of the face beyond this area, including on the lips, in and around the mouth, and inside the nose.
|Cold sores||Angular cheilitis|
|initial redness, swelling, discomfort, itching on skin, on lips, or in the mouth before cold sores emerge||painful blisters or cracks in the skin|
|uncomfortable, fluid-filled blisters||dryness and crusting of the skin|
|leaking blisters that turn into wet sores||redness|
|scabbing and healing sores||bleeding|
Its not clear why some people with the herpes simplex virus experience more frequent outbreaks than others. However, sometimes treatment can help reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks, which in turn can reduce the chances of transmitting the virus to someone else.
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Drug Treatment For Genital Herpes
If you are infected with genital herpes, your doctor may prescribe oral antiviral drugs to help ease your symptoms during both a first episode and recurrent episodes. Your doctor may also suggest taking antiviral drugs daily as a suppressive therapy to reduce symptoms and protect partners.
Remember, though, that antiviral drugs do not wipe out the virus completely. It continues to live in your body, so if you stop taking the drugs that suppress it, you may have more frequent or more intense symptom outbreaks, and the risk of your transmitting the virus to others rises.
Three antiviral drugs, all taken by mouth, are used to treat genital herpes:
Education Is An Integral Part Of Herpes Treatment
If you have genital herpes, its important for you to get educated about herpes and have the opportunity to ask questions in a supportive environment.
Becoming informed will help you learn to cope with the illness. It will also help you prevent sexual transmission of the illness, or transmission to an infant during a pregnancy.
Herpes has a tremendous psychosocial overlay. But knowledge about it and understanding about how well it can be managed can reduce that, says Handsfield.
Your doctor may be able to provide you with all the information you need, or you may choose to seek counseling from a mental health professional or at a clinic that specializes in sexual health, such as Planned Parenthood.
If you have a regular sexual partner, that person should also have the chance to learn about herpes and ask any questions they may have about it.
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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.