How Do I Know If I Have Genital Herpes
Most people with genital herpes have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms. Mild symptoms may go unnoticed or be mistaken for other skin conditions like a pimple or ingrown hair. Because of this, most people do not know they have a herpes infection.
Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. This is known as having an outbreak. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take a week or more to heal. Flu-like symptoms also may occur during the first outbreak.
People who experience an initial outbreak of herpes can have repeated outbreaks, especially if they have HSV-2. However, repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Although genital herpes is a lifelong infection, the number of outbreaks may decrease over time.
Ask a healthcare provider to examine you if:
- You notice any symptoms or
- Your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD.
STD symptoms can include an unusual sore, a smelly genital discharge, burning when peeing, or bleeding between periods .
What Causes Oral Herpes Simplex Virus Infections
Oral HSV infections are easily spread through close, personal contact with someone who has HSV. The infection may be spread when you touch the blisters and then touch your eyes, mouth, nose, or a cut. The infection can also spread through a kiss or on a shared eating utensil. Oral HSV infections that come back may be triggered by stress, trauma, or exposure to temperature extremes. They may also be triggered by anything that weakens your immune system, such as a cold or the flu.
Complications Of Herpes Simplex Mouth Infection
The major complication of a herpes simplex virus mouth infection is poor fluid intake and dehydration. This is because swallowing is painful and difficult.
In very rare cases, herpes simplex virus can cause encephalitis.
Children with a weakened immune system because of illness or medication have an increased risk of getting herpes simplex mouth infection and encephalitis. Babies younger than 3 months old are also at increased risk.
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What Is Oral Herpes
Many people associate herpes simplex virus or herpes with sexually transmitted diseases. However, not all herpes infections are contracted via sex.
Oral herpes herpes simplex 1 or HSV-1 affects the mouth. It causes cold sores and fever blisters to develop in and around the mouth. Both herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2 can infect the mouth and genitals, but simplex 1 is most often linked to oral infections.
Virus type 1 HSV lesions usually last about 7 to 10 days. They begin as fluid-filled blisters that rupture after a day or two.
The fluid within the sores contains the herpes simplex virus type, which is how it transmits from one person to another. Anyone who comes into contact with the highly contagious fluid from another persons sores is at risk of contracting the virus.
Most people are infected in childhood, often through contact with a parent or another close person in their lives.
Herpes is often transmitted via kissing and other types of touching. Sharing objects such as lip balm or silverware contaminated with the infected fluid can also cause it.
Once infected, a person has herpes for life. However, this doesnt mean the infection is always active. It is common for the virus to lay dormant in the body and not show any symptoms.
Some people will experience only one outbreak in their life, while others have outbreaks more often. The most common causes of outbreaks include stress, sun exposure, or other illnesses.
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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How Do You Get Herpes
The skin on your genitals, mouth, and eyes can be infected easily. Other areas of skin may get infected if theres a way for the herpes virus to get in, like through a cut, burn, rash, or other sores. You dont have to have sex to get herpes. Sometimes herpes can be passed in non-sexual ways, like if a parent with a cold sore gives you a peck on the lips. Most people with oral herpes got it when they were kids. A mother can pass genital herpes to a baby during vaginal childbirth, but thats pretty rare.
You can spread herpes to other parts of your body if you touch a herpes sore and then touch your mouth, genitals, or eyes without washing your hands first. You can also pass herpes to someone else this way.
Herpes is most contagious when sores are open and wet, because fluid from herpes blisters easily spreads the virus. But herpes can also shed and get passed to others when there are no sores and your skin looks totally normal.
Most people get herpes from someone who doesnt have any sores. It may live in your body for years without causing any symptoms, so its really hard to know for sure when and how you got it. Thats why so many people have herpes its a pretty sneaky infection.
Because the virus dies quickly outside the body, you cant get herpes from hugging, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or sitting on toilet seats.
Symptoms Of Oral Herpes
Oral herpes is most often asymptomatic, meaning you dont exhibit any signs that you carry the virus. That said, the symptoms, when present, are pretty obvious. The most common tell-tale symptom of HSV-1 is a cold sore.
Before a cold sore also known as a fever blister shows up, you may experience tingling, itching, pain or burning around the mouth.
This is known as a prodrome and is essentially a warning period that symptoms are imminent. Not everyone will experience a prodrome before a cold sore appears, but it is quite common.
The sores can appear on your lips, around your nostrils and inside your mouth. These lesions and sores can sometimes be confused with pimples, chapped lips, bug bites and other benign conditions.
The first incidence of HSV-1 symptoms is often the worst, though personal experiences vary. During this initial infection, you may also experience a fever, muscle aches, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes.
Once the cold sores go away and they will they may or may not make a reappearance, as the herpes virus is a life-long infection that can lie dormant for years.
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When To Seek Medical Care
When to call the doctor
- Because the sores are painful, you may have difficulty eating or drinking. To prevent dehydration, call your doctor as soon as you cannot eat or drink.
- Call your doctor immediately if any of these symptoms, which suggest dehydration, occur:
- A decrease in urination
When to go to the hospital
Signs and symptoms of dehydration may warrant going to a hospital’s emergency department.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Oral Herpes Simplex Virus Infections
Signs and symptoms of oral HSV infections usually develop suddenly and heal without treatment in about 10 days. Sores are usually filled with a yellow-white fluid and may break easily. Sores may join together to form larger open sores. You may also have the following:
- Burning, tingling, itching, or pain at the affected area before sores form
- Blisters or painful small, round, shallow ulcers on the lips, mouth, or gums
- Fever, chills, headache, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
- Getting tired and irritated easily and more than normal for you
- Loss of appetite or not wanting to eat or drink
- Red, swollen, bleeding gums, or sore throat
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How Does Someone Get Oral Herpes
Oral herpes is transmitted through direct contact between the contagious area and broken skin and mucous membrane tissue . In other words, HSV can be passed on through kissing or oral sex.
Herpes can also be transmitted when there are no symptoms present. There are several days throughout the year when the virus reactivates yet causes no symptoms .
If a person is experiencing symptoms orally, we recommend abstaining from performing oral sex and kissing others directly on the mouth until signs have healed and the skin looks normal again. Because most adults have oral herpes, we dont suggest that a person should stop giving or receiving affection altogether between outbreaks simply because they have oral herpes. However, using a barrier or condom when performing oral sex can reduce the risk of contracting genital herpes.
By performing oral sex on someone who has genital herpes, it would be possible to contract oral herpes but this is rare. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2, which rarely affects the mouth or face. Also, and even more importantly, most adults already have oral HSV-1, contracted as a child through kissing relatives or friends.
Why Cold Sores Come Back
Cold sores are caused by a virus called herpes simplex.
Once you have the virus, it stays in your skin for the rest of your life. Sometimes it causes a cold sore.
Most people are exposed to the virus when they’re young after close skin to skin contact, such as kissing, with someone who has a cold sore.
It does not usually cause any symptoms until you’re older. You will not know if it’s in your skin unless you get a cold sore.
Page last reviewed: 20 July 2020 Next review due: 20 July 2023
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How Do You Get Rid Of A Cold Sore
Although it may take a while to get rid of a cold sore, some medicines can shorten the healing time and make the symptoms less painful. Cold sore treatments include:
- Over-the-counter medications: You can buy without a prescription creams or ointments that you apply directly to the cold sore. If you start using these creams when you first notice tingling or itching before the cold sore forms you may be able to prevent the cold sore from appearing.
- Oral antiviral medicine: Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication that you take orally .
- Intravenous antiviral medicine: If other medications arent working, your doctor may need to prescribe an antiviral medication that will be administered through an IV. In this case, your doctor will monitor you closely throughout treatment.
Who Is At Risk For Developing Herpes Simplex Infections
Anyone can contract HSV, regardless of age. If youre exposed to HSV, youre likely to contract the virus.
Remember, HSV is very common. But because its often asymptomatic, plenty of people living with the virus never have an episode or realize theyve contracted HSV.
You may have a higher chance of contracting the virus if you:
- have a sexual partner who lives with HSV
- were assigned female at birth . suggests more AFAB folks than people assigned male at birth develop HSV, but this could also mean AFAB folks are more likely to experience symptoms.
- are immunocompromised
Some older research suggests HSV-1 antibodies may offer AFAB folks some protection against contracting HSV-2. Still, many people living with one type of the virus do contract the other type later on. You wont contract the same type of the virus again, though, since it remains dormant in your body once you acquire it.
You may have a slightly higher chance of contracting genital HSV if you have sex without using condoms or other barrier methods. Keep in mind, though, that condoms and other barrier methods wont always cover the infection site, since sores can appear on the buttocks or inner thighs.
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How Is Oral Herpes Diagnosed
Oral herpes presents similarly to other infections and allergic reactions. The only way to know for sure that you have herpes is to undergo a virus culture test, blood test, or biopsy.
You or your doctor might assume you have a herpes infection based on an incidence of exposure and/or location of the sores, but this isnt definitive like a test.
For example, if you know your spouse has herpes simplex 1 and you develop symptoms, youve likely been infected.
Herpes Might Not Have Any Symptoms
You or your partner may not have any herpes symptoms that you can see or feel, or the signs of herpes may be so mild you dont even notice them. Sometimes people confuse herpes symptoms with other things, like pimples, ingrown hairs, and the flu.
Herpes symptoms come and go, but that doesnt mean the infection goes away or that you cant spread it to other people. Once you have herpes, it stays in your body for life.
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How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Getting Genital Herpes
If you are sexually active, you can do the following things to lower your chances of getting genital herpes:
- Be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who is not infected with an STD
- Using latex condoms the right way every time you have sex.
Be aware that not all herpes sores occur in areas that are covered by a latex condom. Also, herpes virus can be released from areas of the skin that do not have a visible herpes sore. For these reasons, condoms may not fully protect you from getting herpes.
If you are in a relationship with a person known to have genital herpes, you can lower your risk of getting genital herpes if:
- Your partner takes an anti-herpes medication every day. This is something your partner should discuss with his or her doctor.
Complications Of Cold Sores
Cold sores are usually mild, but may cause complications in rare cases. People with weak immune systems caused by illness or treatments such as chemotherapy are particularly at risk of complications.
Dehydration sometimes occurs if drinking fluids becomes painful. Young children are particularly at risk of becoming dehydrated.
The herpes simplex virus can also spread to other parts of your body. Examples of when this can occur include:
- skin infections these often occur if the virus comes into contact with broken skin, such as a cut or graze, or a skin condition such as eczema
- herpetic whitlow this causes painful sores and blisters to appear on and around your fingers
- herpetic keratoconjunctivitis this causes swelling and irritation of your eye area and sores to develop on your eyelids
Left untreated, herpetic keratoconjunctivitis can cause the cornea, the transparent layer at the front of your eye, to become infected, which can eventually lead to blindness.
It’s therefore important not to touch your eyes if you have an unhealed cold sore. If you must touch your eyes for example, to remove contact lenses wash your hands thoroughly first.
In very rare cases, encephalitis, a condition where the brain becomes inflamed and swollen, can be caused by the cold sore virus spreading to the brain. It can be treated with intravenous injections of antiviral medications, such as aciclovir.
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What Is Neonatal Herpes
Neonatal herpes can be a very serious infection. Babies generally contract the virus from their birthing parent during childbirth even if the parent doesnt have active lesions. They may also get HSV-1 if an adult with an active cold sore kisses them. Breastfeeding babies can also get HSV-1 from the breast if there are lesions present. But babies cant get herpes from breast milk, so its safe to pump and feed.
Herpes simplex can be more dangerous for young babies because they dont have a fully developed immune system. But most babies with neonatal herpes can recover fully with treatment.
The dangers of neonatal herpes are much higher if the infection spreads to the babys organs. If youre pregnant and have herpes, speak with your healthcare provider about how to lower the risk of passing the infection to your baby.
Causes Of Oral Herpes
Oral herpes can be spread by kissing or any other close physical contact. The World Health Organization calls HSV-1 common and endemic and says most infections of HSV-1 occur during childhood. They estimate as many as 3.7 billion people around the world have oral herpes, including 40-50 percent of people under age 50 in the U.S.
While its mostly transmitted from oral-to-oral contact, oral herpes can be transmitted from and to the genitals. Symptomatic people are more likely to spread the virus, but it can also be spread when the skin appears normal or without symptoms this is called viral shedding.
In other words, just because someone doesnt have herpes sores on their face or genitals doesnt mean they cant pass HSV-1 or HSV-2 onto you.
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