“The Five” is a series of blog posts that will look at some of the most common STIs or STDs and give you answers to five of the most important questions you should be asking.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are often not talked about because it can be an awkward topic, and when they are discussed, they are frequently misunderstood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm] reports that, in 2014 (the most recent report available), 299,000 people made initial doctor’s visits because of genital herpes simplex virus infections. Most people who have the disease mistake the symptoms for other conditions; and therefore, do not know they are infected.
Asking the right questions and getting accurate answers is important. The more you know, the better you can protect yourself.
The Five – Herpes
#1 – What is herpes and how do you get it?
Genital herpes is an STD, which is caused by two types of viruses: simplex type 1 and simplex type 2. You can get infected by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has the infection.
Fluid in the sores carry the virus, and you can contract the virus by coming into contact with that fluid. You can also get herpes from a partner who does not have visible sores or who may not even know he or she has the virus because the virus can be released through your skin and spread to your partner.
#2 – What are the symptoms of herpes?
Most people who have herpes have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. Many people mistake some of the mild symptoms for another condition – a pimple or an ingrown hair.
Genital herpes sores usually appear as blisters on or around the mouth, the rectum, or the genitals. The blisters break and leave painful sores that could take weeks to heal. This is often referred to as “having an outbreak.” The first outbreak can also include flu-like symptoms: fever, body aches, and swollen glands.
Repeat outbreaks are common, especially during the first year of infection. Repeat outbreaks tend to be shorter and less severe and the number of outbreaks may decrease over the years. However, the virus remains in your body for the rest of your life.
#3 – How can I find out if I have herpes?
Doctors can often diagnose genital herpes by looking at the sores. Medical providers can also take a sample from the sore and test it to confirm the virus. The only way to know for sure is to have an examination and be tested.
#4 – Is there a cure for herpes?
No, there is no cure. But there are medicines that can shorten outbreaks or even prevent them. It is important to talk to a medical professional to learn how to treat symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to other parts of your body (like your eyes) and to other people.
#5 – What happens if I don’t get tested and treated if I have herpes?
Genital herpes can cause very painful sores and can be quite severe in people who have suppressed immune systems.
If you touch the sores and then touch other parts of your body (like your eyes), you can transfer the virus and infect that body part. If you are pregnant, the herpes virus can cause problems for you and your unborn baby. If you have sex with open, bleeding herpes sores, you may have an increased risk for contracting HIV.
Because it is possible to have herpes with no obvious symptoms, sexually active young people are a high-risk group. Using condoms can help lower the risk, but it will not completely eliminate the risk of getting infected. The only way to completely eliminate the risk of getting any STI or STD is to wait until you are in a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.
We want you to have all the information you need to make healthy decisions about sex. You can get more information about herpes from the CDC, or you can schedule an appointment with us. All of our services are confidential and provided at no cost to you.
Nursing Director (BSN, RN, FCP)
The content on this page has been reviewed and approved by our Nursing Director.