Myth: Ive Never Had An Outbreak So I Definitely Dont Have Herpes
Unfortunately, the lack of a visible outbreak doesnt mean youre herpes-free. Many people infected with the virus never experience an outbreak, Mary Rosser, MD, PhD, director of obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, tells Health. And when they do, it frequently isnt recognized. This explains why, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 87.4% of infected individuals have no clue.
Outbreaks can be very mild and even confused with things like heat rash, jock itch, yeast infections, allergic reactions, Fred Wyand, director of communications for the American Sexual Health Association , tells Health. So while some cases do involve pronounced symptoms, most never do.
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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 its 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.
What Are The Chances Of A Male Passing Herpes To A Female
In general, women have a higher risk of becoming infected than men. Having other sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV also increases the risk of transmission. In studies with couples where one partner had genital herpes, the other partner became infected within one year in 5 to 10% of the couples.
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How Is It Treated
Genital herpes can be treated, but it cannot be cured.Anti-viral medicines can make outbreaks:
Living with genital herpes causes some people to:
- Feel embarrassed or ashamed
- Worry about infecting a sexual partner
- Worry that having herpes will affect relationships with sexual partners
- Avoid dating or sexual relationships
Most people with herpes are able to live with the virusand manage their outbreaks. Talking to trusted healthcare providers and friends can help. Your health careprovider can talk to you about medicines that treatoutbreaks and about ways to reduce the chance ofpassing the virus on to a sexual partner.
Medicines can help lower the chance that you will pass the virus to others.
Tingling Or Pain Before Blisters Form
If you know youve been exposed to herpes, you might 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, says Dr. Shim. Usually youll experience an outbreak later, but its possible to have this tingling or itching and have no sores show up, she says.
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What Are Some Signs That I Might Have Genital Herpes
Often, its hard to tell by looking. The textbook symptom of genital herpes is a cluster of small fluid-filled blisters that break, forming painful sores that crust and heal during several days. Affected areas include the , scrotum, , vulva, urethra, , thighs, and buttocks.
But many people dont get these sores. Some people have no symptoms at all, while others get symptoms that can be easily mistaken for razor burn, pimples, bug bites, jock itch, hemorrhoids, an ingrown hair, or a vaginal yeast infection.
After youre infected, the symptoms go away, but can flare up from time to time. Luckily, the first outbreak usually is the worst. And some people may have just one or two outbreaks in their lifetime.
Reducing The Risk Of Genital Herpes
The herpes virus cant pass through a condom. However, if the virus is present and active on the skin in areas around the genitals not covered by the condom , infection may still occur. Therefore condoms are not 100% protective against the herpes virus.
If your partner has herpes, avoiding sex when they have visible sores reduces your risk of getting herpes.
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Coping With Your Feelings
Finding out that you have genital herpes may cause you to have negative thoughts or feelings about yourself or about sex, such as:
- Feeling ashamed or embarrassed.
- Being afraid of the consequences of the infection.
- Being angry at the person who infected you.
- Feeling frustrated with treatment or recurrent outbreaks.
- Feeling scared to have sex.
A counselor or support groups for people with herpes may be helpful.
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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:
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Myth: I Cant Have Kids If I Have Herpes
When my patients find out they have herpes, they often ask me, Oh my god, can I still have children?’ shares Dr. Rosser. The answer? Absolutely. Herpes doesnt affect your fertility in any way and there are plenty of safe delivery options to ensure the virus isnt transferred to your baby, she says. Still, genital herpes can increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, or in rare cases, a potentially dangerous infection in newborns if the mother is experiencing symptoms at the time of birth.
How To Know If You Have 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 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 842,512 times.
Research shows that around 1 out of every 6 people has some form of herpes.XTrustworthy SourceCenters for Disease Control and PreventionMain public health institute for the US, run by the Dept. of Health and Human ServicesGo to source The herpes simplex viruses are the viruses responsible for oral and genital herpes infections, and they can cause sores, itching, painful urination, and vaginal discharge. Although doctors can treat symptoms, ease pain, and reduce the possibility of spreading the virus, herpes cannot be cured. Studies show that you can find out if you have herpes by examining high risk behaviors, recognizing the symptoms, and getting tested by a medical professional.XTrustworthy SourceFamilyDoctor.orgFamily-focused medical advice site run by the American Academy of Family DoctorsGo to source
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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.
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Is There A Test For Genital Herpes
Yes. A doctor can take a sample from what appears to be a herpes sore and send it to a lab to be examined. You can also have a blood test. The blood test looks for antibodies to the virus that your immune system would have made when you were infected. HSV-2 almost always infects the genitals, so if antibodies to HSV-2 are detected in the blood, you probably have genital herpes.
A blood test that shows antibodies to HSV-1 means you could have genital or oral herpes. Thats because oral herpes, typically caused by HSV-1, can be spread to the genitals during oral sex.
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How Do You Treat Herpes
Theres no cure for herpes, but prescription medications can ease symptoms, end outbreaks sooner, and lower the chances of passing the virus to other people.
You can also help ease the pain caused by herpes outbreaks by taking a warm bath, wearing loose clothing and putting an ice pack on the sores.
How Is It Spread
The herpes virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the herpes virus:
- Most often, from herpes sores or blisters
- Less often, from normal looking skin where the virusfirst entered the body
- The herpes virus enters the body through the:
- Lining of the mouth
- Regular skin that has small cracks or cuts
People with a weak immune system can get a herpesinfection more easily. A weak immune system is causedby some diseases and by somemedicines used to treat serious diseases.
People who don’t know they have herpes can still spread the virus to others.
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What Complications Are Connected With An Untreated Genital Herpes Infection
Just as there are health risks associated with untreated chlamydia in men and women, there are also risks connected with untreated herpesâeven in asymptomatic patients. Not only does the infection increase your likelihood of contracting and transmitting other STDs, but it can also lead to:
- Difficulty urinating, due to inflammation of the urethra
- Itchy urethra in males
- Infections in newborns exposed to the virus during a vaginal birth, which can severely harm the childâs health
- Rectal inflammation , especially in men who have sex with men
The best way to avoid these complications is to practice safe sex and routinely screen for STDs. You can conveniently check for 6 common STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis from the privacy of your home with the Everlywell STD Test for men and women.
Treatment For Cold Sores
Cold sores are generally not dangerous and do not cause any permanent damage to the skin. Treatment does not cure the infection and is not necessary for most cases. Avoid picking the scab or breaking blisters as this can cause secondary infection with bacteria, or scarring. Creams to treat the symptoms can be soothing, as can ice on the blisters. Simple painkillers may occasionally be required. Povidone-iodine ointments can be dabbed onto the cold sores and may reduce symptoms in some people.Antiviral medications come in many forms, including creams and tablets. Medications such as aciclovir and famciclovir shorten the duration of the cold sore by reducing the ability of the virus to reproduce. Aciclovir cream works best when applied to the blister at the earliest stages of cold sore development, when the area is tingling. However, not everyone experiences warning signs of an impending cold sore.
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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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Is It Safe To Breastfeed If I Have Genital Herpes
Yes as long as there isnt an open lesion on your chest or breast. If you have an active outbreak while breastfeeding, its possible to spread the infection to your nipples through touch. Careful hand-washing can prevent this spread. You shouldnt nurse from a breast that has herpes sores. You can pump breast milk until the sores heal. Dont give your baby expressed breast milk if the pump comes into contact with an open sore.
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What Are Signs Of Genital Herpes In Women
Women who have the herpes virus may have nooutbreaks or signs of infection. Many do not know theyhave the virus. Once you are infected, the virus staysin your nerve cells for life. When the virus is not active,there is no sign of infection. When the virus becomesactive, a herpes outbreak occurs. Some womenmay not have any outbreaks or may have only oneoutbreak, while others may have multiple outbreaks.
Take Charge Of Your Health
Oral herpes can be transmitted by kissing, sharing eating utensils or drinks, or during sex. Since oral herpes can be contracted from both Type 1 and Type 2 strains of the Herpes Simplex Virus, our doctors recommend getting tested for both of these HSV strains at the same time.
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Fever Blisters And Cold Sores Are Oral Herpes Too
Fever blisters and cold sores are just different names for oral herpes, and theyve been around for a very long time. Legend has it that in ancient Rome, the emperor Tiberius banned kissing at public events because of an outbreak of fever blisters. In other words, they even knew back then how contagious fever blisters are.
The best way to protect yourself is to avoid contact with a person who has a cold sore and refrain from sharing eating utensils, lip balm, and the like. Note that someone with oral herpes can give you genital herpes if they perform oral sex on you. Avoid kissing and oral sex when outbreaks are present.
There is no cure for fever blisters and no vaccine to prevent them, although research into preventing and treating them is ongoing. If you do get oral herpes, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain medication and topical anesthetics to relieve symptoms. Some people also choose to take antiviral medication to make cold sores go away faster.
Contact Dermatitis Can Be Mistaken For Herpes
Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that can cause red, itchy, cracked, dry, or scaly skin, blisters, or a rash. Like herpes, it recurs, and while it’s not an STD, when it appears in the mouth or genital area, it may be mistaken for herpes. However, unlike herpes, contact dermatitis can happen anywhere on the skin and is caused by direct contact with an irritant or something you’re allergic to, per the Mayo Clinic. It’s not caused by a virus.
Contact dermatitis usually occurs within minutes to hours after touching an irritant. Common causes include poison ivy and reactions to medication, cosmetics, detergents, and jewelry. The skin rash from contact dermatitis usually clears up in a few weeks.
The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to identify whats causing it and avoid touching that item or substance again. Allergy testing can help identify the cause.
While contact dermatitis is generally not a serious condition, it can be itchy and uncomfortable. When the rash is present, try using cool, wet compresses or anti-itch creams to soothe it. Antihistamine pills can help reduce the itchiness. Avoid scratching the area: Doing so can make symptoms worse and open the door to a bacterial or fungal infection. If your itching is severe, you should see your primary care provider or a dermatologist for topical steroid medication.
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