How Can Genital Herpes Be Prevented
There is not yet a vaccine to protect against the herpes virus. There are a number of things to consider which may reduce your risks of getting genital herpes or of passing it on to others. These include:
- Consider the use of condoms always, even in settled relationships. This is because a person can carry the herpes virus for a very long time and pass it on without ever being aware of it. Condoms do not completely protect against herpes but they reduce the risk.
- The more sexual partners you have, the more the risk of picking up any STI, including herpes. So avoiding having too many partners will cut down your risk.
- Avoid having sex with somebody with an active genital herpes infection .
- Also avoid intimate contact with a person who has a cold sore.
- If you have an active herpes infection yourself, avoid having sex with anyone else in order to prevent passing it on.
- If one partner finds out they have herpes, it is wise to tell the other. This can reduce transmission rates.
- If a person knows they have recurrent herpes, taking a regular antiviral medicine can reduce the risk of passing on the virus.
- In particular, a pregnant woman should avoid having sex with somebody with active herpes, because of the extra risk to the baby during delivery.
Is It Possible To Prevent Cold Sores
The best way to prevent a herpes simplex infection is to avoid physical contact with someone else’s cold sores. Items that touch the lips but cannot be washed or sanitized, such as lipstick or lip balm, should not be shared. During an outbreak, frequent hand washing and sanitizing with 60% ethanol-based hand sanitizer will help reduce the spread of the virus to other parts of the body or to other people. Wash hands immediately after applying topical treatments to a cold sore. L-lysine and other supplements have not been shown to consistently reduce outbreaks.
To prevent future outbreaks:
Check If It’s A Cold Sore
A cold sore usually starts with a tingling, itching or burning feeling.
Over the next 48 hours:
Cold sores should start to heal within 10 days, but are contagious and may be irritating or painful while they heal.
Some people find that certain things trigger a cold sore, such as another illness, sunshine or menstrual periods.
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Where Do Symptoms Appear
When a person has genital herpes, the virus lies dormant in the bundle of nerves at the base of the spine. When the virus reactivates , it travels nerve paths to the surface of the skin, sometimes causing an outbreak.
Genital herpes, regardless of whether it is HSV-1 or HSV-2, does not cause symptoms on the mouth or face. For more on oral-facial herpes, see the oral herpes page.
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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A Pharmacist Can Help With Cold Sores
A pharmacist can recommend:
- creams to ease pain and irritation
- antiviral creams to speed up healing time
- cold sore patches to protect the skin while it heals
You can buy electronic devices from pharmacies that treat cold sores with light or lasers.
Some people find these helpful, but there have not been many studies to confirm if they work.
If you regularly get cold sores, use antiviral creams as soon as you recognise the early tingling feeling. They do not always work after blisters appear.
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 .
Genital Herpes In Mouth
So, youre here to figure out if you can get genital herpes from oral herpes. The short answer is yes. In addition, you want to know can you get herpes from oral sex. YES!
*Cue panic sweats*
If you dont already know, the herpes simplex virus , commonly referred to as herpes, is a sexually transmitted disease that causes sores and other discomforts. But hey, we promise its not that big of a deal. By the end of this blog post, youll know the difference between oral and genital herpes, how you can get/avoid both, and most importantly, if you should even be that worried about it.
Herpes Is Very Common
Did you know that 11% of the global population has herpes simplex type 2? Okay, if that blew your mind, then buckle up: About 67% of the global population has herpes simplex type 1.
Herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 can even be located both orally and genitally. You read the right. Either strain of the herpes simplex virus can live in your mouth or your privates.
Herpes is incurable and it is pretty contagious. Which is what makes it so popular! Well, popular might not be the right word, but you get the idea. The Earth is just a big ol herpes party at this point, and what were trying to say is, its really not that big of a deal.
We get it, STDs are scary, but the best way to not be scared of something is to learn more about it. For starters, what is the difference between oral herpes and genital herpes?
Telling A Sexual Partner
Whether or not to tell a partner you have herpes when you are symptom-free is a point of controversy for many people, the potential stigma is a greater cause of distress than coping with the physical symptoms.
Most sexual health clinics will advise you to tell your partner. When doing so, offer reassurance that you will inform them immediately if you experience signs of an impending outbreak, and that it is highly unlikely the virus will be transmitted unless you have visible blisters. It is also worth pointing out that as youre aware you have herpes, you can take precautions and are far less likely to pass it on than someone undiagnosed who has mild symptoms and doesnt know they have it!
OMahony comments: People susceptible to facial cold sores dont feel they have to tell everyone they kiss that they had one six months ago its just that theres more stigma around genital herpes, which we need to deflate.
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What Does Recurrent Herpes Look Like
Recurrent herpes occurs in the area where it first appeared, though most of the time, there are fewer blisters or a milder outbreak than the first time. Although the face is the most common site of infection, other areas of the body may be involved:
In recurrent herpes, it often takes 7-10 days before the ulcers completely disappear and the skin returns to normal.
I Think I Have Oral Herpes Is There Anything I Can Do
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Testing For Genital Herpes
If you think you may have genital herpes you should make an appointment with your GP or local sexual health services.
If there are symptoms present such as blisters, sores and ulcers, your doctor or nurse may be able to make a diagnosis straight away.
If you have visible blisters, your doctor or nurse may take a swab for testing, to check if this is herpes and what type. This swab can also test for another STI which causes blisters called syphilis.
The genital herpes swab tests are very reliable, though if the ulcer is too dry then it may be less likely to find a positive result.
What Are The Risk Factors For Herpes Simplex Infections
The virus can also be shed from saliva when there are no visible lesions. This is called “asymptomatic shedding.” Therefore, a person can be contagious without having a cold sore outbreak.
- Direct contact with the virus, from kissing or sharing personal items, or skin-to-skin contact, will increase the chance of getting infected with HSV.
- Abnormal areas of skin such as eczema may be especially prone to herpes infection.
- Health care workers, such as dentists, dental hygienists, and respiratory therapists, are at risk of developing herpetic whitlow because of contact with people’s mouths.
- Medical conditions or treatments that weaken a person’s immune system can increase the risk of severe complications from the virus. These include:
Oral herpes is contagious to others who do not have it.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Herpes
Many people with genital herpes wonât get any symptoms, or may get symptoms for the first time months or even years after they were infected.
For most people, the first blisters go away within a month. Although the outbreaks clear-up by themselves, the virus stays in the body. This means that people usually get blisters again â which is called having a ârecurrent outbreakâ. Outbreaks usually become shorter and less severe over time.
Other symptoms can include:
tingling or burning around the genitals
feeling unwell, with aches, pains and flu-like symptoms
unusual vaginal discharge in women.
What Are The Complications
Complications are rare, but some people especially those with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV, may have trouble fighting the virus and get a secondary infection in the eye, fingers, joints, throat, colon, liver, lungs or brain.
If you are pregnant, and you or your partner have a history of herpes, it is important to inform your health care provider. There are steps that can be taken to help prevent the virus being passed to the baby. This is most likely to happen if the mother has a primary first outbreak in the third trimester. Herpes can cause serious complications for the baby, including death. Women who have genital herpes before they become pregnant are at very low risk of passing it to their infant.
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What Happens If I Dont Get Treated
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you touch your sores or the fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another part of your body, such as your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes to another part of your body. If you do touch the sores or fluids, immediately wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading your infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your developing fetus, or newborn baby. See Im pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby? above for information about this.
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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How Will My Doctor Know If I Have Herpes
Your healthcare provider may diagnose genital herpes by simply looking at your symptoms. Providers can also take a sample from the sore and test it. In certain situations, a blood test may be used to look for herpes antibodies. Have an honest and open talk with your health care provider and ask whether you should be tested for herpes or other STDs.
Please note: A herpes blood test can help determine if you have herpes infection. It cannot tell you who gave you the infection or how long you have been infected.
How To Check If You Have Herpes
Many people mistake herpes symptoms for a skin rash or experience such a mild outbreak that they dont become aware theyre infected until subsequent outbreaks occur.
For more information, see our guide to Jock Itch vs. Herpes: Differences & Treatments.
Its also possible that you might experience no outbreaks at all after being infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2.
Luckily, there are several ways to check whether or not you have herpes.The best and most obvious way is to talk to your doctor about herpes testing. There are several herpes testing methods in use today, ranging from swab tests that check for viral activity to blood tests that check for the presence of IgG and/or IgM antibodies.
Each testing method has strengths and weaknesses, meaning your doctor will recommend the best option for your symptoms and potential infection type.
Most of the time, youll need to wait 12 to 16 weeks from the last possible exposure date before taking a herpes test. This gives your immune system time to produce a large enough amount of antibodies for an accurate test result.
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What To Do If Youre Diagnosed With Genital Herpes
Its OK to have a lot of feelings and questions when youre diagnosed with herpes. But no matter how youre feeling, try to remember that youre not alone, and your diagnosis doesnt define you. Its also important to remember that you can still live a perfectly normal and happy life with herpes. According to Planned Parenthood, the best thing you can do after your diagnosis is to follow your doctors recommendations for treatment. That said, Planned Parenthood notes that if youre struggling with your diagnosis, you can talk to a trusted family member, friend, or therapist to help you cope.
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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 .