1. Genital herpes is a STD.
This is commonly caused by two types of viruses. The viruses are called herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
In the past, HSV-1 has been most commonly associated with oral herpes—cold sores and blisters on or around the mouth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—while HSV-2 is connected to genital herpes. But don’t be mistaken as you can get either strain in the genital area.
2. Usually mistaken for yeast infection or Urinary infection.
There are different types of herpes infections, and with that, different levels of severity with symptoms (including no symptoms at all, known as asymptomatic shedding). Oftentimes, if a person has never had herpes before, those symptoms look like those associated with a yeast infection or UTI: pain in the genital area, yellow discharge, and a burning sensation when urinating.
If your doctor doesn’t swab you to test for the herpes virus when you come in, then ask them to do so the second time around, if and when the symptoms don’t go away after being treated for the yeast infection or UTI.
However, those aren’t the only symptoms. Clusters of red, blistery bumps are dead giveaways of oral or genital herpes, and when you’re first infected, they usually show up within two to 10 days. The sores may burst and heal—but they usually come back. It can show up as blisters or sores, but it can also just produce a mild rash. And at times they do appear on the thighs, back, fingers, and of course the genitals.
3. How is genital herpes spread?
You can get genital herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the disease. If you do not have herpes, you can get infected if you come into contact with the herpes virus in:
- A herpes sore ( blister that is popped/ fresh open herpes sore)
- Saliva (if your partner has an oral herpes infection) or genital secretions (if your partner has a genital herpes infection);
- Skin in the oral area if your partner has an oral herpes infection, or skin in the genital area if your partner has a genital herpes infection.
- You can get herpes from a sex partner who does not have a visible sore or who may not know he or she is infected. It is also possible to get genital herpes if you receive oral sex from a sex partner who has oral herpes.
You will NOT get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools, or from touching objects around you such as silverware, soap, or towels.
4. Herpes is for life.
Once you have herpes, you can’t ever get rid of it. (A blood test by a health professional will reveal if you are infected. Fluids taken from lesions can also be tested for the herpes virus.) However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks. One of these anti-herpes medicines can be taken daily, and makes it less likely that you will pass the infection on to your sex partner(s).
Even though symptoms disappear, the virus remains dormant in a nearby nerve. The virus may be reactivated from time to time, usually caused by some kind of stress, and travels back down the nerve to your skin, causing a new outbreak.
5. What happens if I don’t get treated?
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems ( if you have other ongoing infections/ other means of illnesses)
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.
6. Recurrent outbreaks
Symptoms of a recurrent outbreak are similar to the primary outbreak, but because your body now recognises the virus and mounts an immune response, they are usually shorter and less severe and may include:
- Tingling, burning or itching around the genitals, and even down the leg preceding the appearance of blisters
- Blisters that leave sores around the pelvic area
- Some blistering and ulcers on the cervix
The symptoms of genital herpes usually take about a month to clear up.
7. How can I reduce my risk of getting genital herpes?
The only way to avoid STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you are sexually active, you can do the following things to lower your chances of getting genital herpes:
- Be in a long-term relationship with a partner who is not infected with an STD. The best you could do for your relationship is to get tested for STD together. Be in a mutual monogamous relationship after getting tested to ensure no cross infections.
- Using latex condoms the right way every time you have sex. Be aware that not all herpes sores occur in areas that are covered by a latex condom. Also, herpes virus can be released (shed) from areas of the skin that do not have a visible herpes sore. For these reasons, condoms may not fully protect you from getting herpes.
If you are in a relationship with a person known to have genital herpes, you can lower your risk of getting genital herpes if:
- Your partner takes an anti-herpes medication every day(suppressive therapy). This is something your partner should discuss with his or her doctor.
- You avoid having vaginal, anal, or oral sex when your partner has herpes symptoms (when your partner is having an outbreak or is on treatment).
8. How do I know if I have genital herpes?
Most people who have genital herpes have no symptoms, or have very mild symptoms. You may not notice mild symptoms or you may mistake them for another skin condition, such as a pimple or ingrown hair.
Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take a week or more to heal. The first time someone has an outbreak they may also have flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, or swollen glands.
People who experience an initial outbreak of herpes can have repeated outbreaks, especially if they are infected with HSV-2. Repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. Although the infection stays in the body for the rest of your life, the number of outbreaks may decrease over time.
9. I’m pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby?
If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, it is very important for you to go to prenatal care visits. Tell your doctor if you have ever had symptoms of, or have been diagnosed with, genital herpes. Also tell your doctor if you have ever been exposed to genital herpes. There is some research that suggests that genital herpes infection may lead to miscarriage, or could make it more likely for you to deliver your baby too early.
Herpes infection can be passed from you to your unborn child before birth but is more commonly passed to your infant during delivery. This can lead to a potentially deadly infection in your baby called neonatal herpes. It is important that you avoid getting herpes during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, you may be offered anti-herpes medicine towards the end of your pregnancy. This medicine may reduce your risk of having signs or symptoms of genital herpes at the time of delivery. At the time of delivery, your doctor should carefully examine you for herpes sores. If you have herpes symptoms at delivery, a ‘C-section’ is usually performed.
10. What is the link between genital herpes and HIV?
Herpes infection can cause sores or breaks in the skin or lining of the mouth, vagina, and rectum. This provides a way for HIV to enter the body. Even without visible sores, having genital herpes increases the number of CD4 cells (the cells that HIV targets for entry into the body) found in the lining of the genitals. When a person has both HIV and genital herpes, the chances are higher that HIV will be spread to an HIV-uninfected sex partner during sexual contact with their partner’s mouth, vagina, or rectum. Having consented and protected intercourse is the way to go!