What is Herpes? What You Should Know

What is Herpes?

Herpes is a virus that is transmitted from one person to the next through physical contact with another person who has herpes.  Like any other Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), it does not happen because you slept with a person who was promiscuous, came from a particular economic background, or so on.  STI’s are far more prevalent than you think and many people are unaware that they have one.  Everyday people regularly contract a sexually transmitted infections, and if you are reading this, you are probably one of those folks.

How Does Herpes Transmission Occur?

We all went through some form of sex education in school, but most of us weren’t taught what we need to know about sexually transmitted diseases and how they are spread.

There are three ways that transmission of herpes can occur.

– Through contact with saliva of a person who has oral herpes.  This happens to many children through non-sexual contact.

– Through direct contact with a herpes sore (oral or genital)

– Through contact with the skin in the oral area (for oral herpes) or genital area (for genital herpes) of a person who has herpes.

It is important to realize that you cannot get herpes just from casual contact with another person, by sitting on a toilet seat, through sharing bedding, soap, towels, or silverware.

It is, however, possible to contract herpes when there is direct contact with the skin of a person who has herpes when they do not have an outbreak.  The chance of contracting herpes when there is no outbreak (visible sore) is far less likely, but it is still possible.

What is the Difference between Oral and Genital Herpes?

There are two different strains of the Herpes virus:  HSV-1 and HSV-2.

Typically, HSV-1 is found orally (around the mouth), and HSV-2 is found genitally (around the sexual organs and anus).  However, because oral sex can expose the mouth to HSV-2 and the genital area to HSV-1, sometimes people may carry HSV-2 around the mouth and HSV-1 genitally.


How Can I Ensure I Never Get Herpes?

The short version is that you can’t ever be sure you won’t get herpes unless you become a hermit who lives alone on top of a mountain for the rest of your life.  Short of that, there is a decent chance you will come into contact with herpes at some point in your life.  Most people encounter the oral form (HSV-1).

It is probably a given that you will be sexually active at some part in your life.  Most people are.  There are a lot of people out there who have genital herpes.  Some of them know about it and some of them don’t.  The range of symptoms can be mild or non-existent to very unpleasant.

Practicing safe sex with condoms is your best defense against contracting herpes.  However, because condoms do not cover all areas of the genital regions that come into contact with one another during sex, transmission is still possible.  Although far from an officially approved method of protection, some couples choose for a man to wear boxers in addition to a condom just to help limit skin contact.  This is, of course, not a guarantee that it will work – but many people believe it to be helpful.  It certainly can’t hurt to try if you plan to have sex with a person who has herpes.

What is a Herpes Outbreak Like? / How Do I Know if I Have Contracted Herpes?

This can be a tricky question to answer because herpes can appear differently in different people.  As mentioned previously some people with herpes have no symptoms at all.  Other people may have some minor itching in the genitals, and other people may experience sores (also known as herpes lesions).

Herpes sores / lesions are painful blisters that occur around the genitals, mouth, or anus of an infected person.  They may weep, burn, and / or itch.  The first outbreak of HSV-2 (the genital version) is almost always the most severe.  Whereas an HSV-1 infection (the oral variety) may only happen once or a few times throughout a person’s life, HSV-2 is generally recurrent.  The first year of infection is typically the worst, but most people have fewer and fewer outbreaks as the years progress.

The best advice is to go and see a doctor if you think you have a herpes infection.  He or she can run tests to determine whether or not you do.


What Does a Doctor Do to Find Out If I Have Herpes?

There are several ways for a doctor to diagnose herpes.  Many people who are having an outbreak are diagnosed visually.  A more accurate way to tell if it is herpes is through a blood test.  This will let you know with certainty that what you have is herpes if you are experiencing an outbreak.

If you have not had an outbreak, but you know or suspect that you may have been exposed to herpes, you cannot generally find out immediately if you have contracted the disease.  The reason for this is that your body must form antibodies first.  If you haven’t had an outbreak, your body may not have produced enough antibodies to be detected until several months have passed.

I Had an STD Panel Run, But They Didn’t Test for Herpes.  Is This Normal?

Yes.  Generally, you have to request a test specifically for herpes.  Since it does not pose a significant long-term health risk if it remains undiagnosed like syphilis or chlamydia, it is not part of a regular STD screening.

Click here to find out what treatment options exist for herpes.