Alright, so this was not a question that was necessarily asked anonymously through email but something I often have to explain to so many of our patients here at New Gen. It can be a bit confusing so I will do my best to make it more clear.
What is herpes:
The herpes simplex virus (HSV), otherwise know simply as herpes, is a viral infection that lasts a lifetime. Meaning, the virus never leaves your body – even when symptoms aren’t present (symptoms will be discussed next). HSV-1 usually affects the mouth and HSV-2 usually affects the genitals (vaginal, penis, or butt area). However, both types can happen in either part of the body!
What does herpes look like?
Herpes looks like little blister type sores that usually appear in clusters (though they can appear alone), are fluid filled, often itch, and can be painful. The sores then usually pop and crust over (at this point they are beginning to heal). When sores are present it is called an outbreak.
So if herpes sores heal, how is it that someone will have it forever?
Outbreaks usually last about 7-14 days, meaning the sores do go away. However, they can come back. Usually the longer someone has the virus, the fewer outbreaks they have. The best way to prevent an outbreak is to take care of yourself. Sleep well, eat right, try to reduce stress…anything to keep your immune system strong.
How is herpes passed from one person to another?
Herpes is passed between one person to another through skin contact – even when no sores are present (though it is much less likely). That means you don’t even have to have penetrative (something inside of something) sex! Simply touching or rubbing your mouth or genitals against the mouth or genitals of someone who has the virus can pass it to you. That also means that condoms do not protect you 100% because condoms do not cover the entire genital area. Because it’s so easy to transmit (passed from one person to another), it is a really common infection! According to the Center for Disease and Control, 16.2%, or about one out of six, people 14 to 49 years of age have genital herpes & up to 80% have oral herpes! I told ya it was common!
How do I know if I have herpes?
If you noticed any unusual bumps in your mouth or genital area, come get it checked out. The best way to determine if someone has herpes is to test the actual sore. There are blood tests available but they aren’t necessarily the most useful. A blood test may reveal someone has been infected but it does not reveal where. Remember, 80% of the population has been exposed to oral herpes therefore the chance of a positive blood test is high.
How do you prevent the transmission of herpes?
- Not having skin to skin contact with the affected area of anyone who has sores visible (on their mouth or genitals). Other kinds of touch, like hugs and hand holding, won’t transmit the infection.
- Using condoms and other types of barriers like dental dams (don’t know what that is? firstname.lastname@example.org). Remember, condoms don’t protect you 100% as they do no cover the entire genital area.
- There are also medications that can help lower the chance an infected person passes it to their partner(s). This is called suppressive treatment.
How is herpes treated?
There is no cure for herpes but there are several medications that can help shorten the length and severity of an outbreak as well as to reduce the number of outbreaks all together. If you have herpes, come see us at New Gen and we can hook you up with these meds.
There is life after herpes!
Yes, there is life after herpes. Often times when people find out they have herpes they are devastated. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed, and think that no one will ever love them or want to have sexual contact with them again! Although these are all very common feelings, it’s definitely not the truth. Like I mentioned before, herpes is super common. It doesn’t mean someone is ‘dirty’. People with herpes go on to live very normal lives, including sex lives. The fact that the longer someone has herpes the fewer outbreaks they have, many people forget they even have the infection. And with several different treatment options, it’s totally possible to reduce the chance of spreading the infection. Having herpes simply means there will be a few days/weeks from time to time that are pretty annoying. The infection will not cause any permanent damage, it will not effect future pregnancies, nor will it cause death.
Having herpes also means becoming a better communicator with your partner(s). It means talking to your partner(s) about the infection and ways to prevent it’s transmission. Now you may find that not all people are willing to have any kind of sexual contact with someone who has herpes and that can be a bummer but there are plenty of people who see past the infection. The people who care about you realize that herpes is just a part of the deal. If you find it difficult to talk to your partner about herpes, schedule an appointment with us at New Gen – we can totally answer all your herpes questions individually and as a couple.
Alright, I know there is a lot of information here so I will end it here. If you have further questions, feel free to come into the clinic or email me a question(s). I’d love to answer them for you!
In happiness & health,
Reviewed by Andrea Raider, NP