Herpes (pronounced: her peas) comes in two forms: oral herpes and genital herpes. Both forms of herpes can infect the oral area, genital area, or both, though oral herpes is often referred to as HSV-I and genital herpes is commonly referred to as HSV-II. In the United States, at least 1 in 4 people have genital herpes – most people with genital herpes are unaware they have it, mostly because many people do not show symptoms, and so few people get tested for it. Read more about the differences between HSV-I and HSV-II, and the chances of having one of the strains here.
Symptoms, if they are present, may last a few for a few days to a few weeks. Often a person with herpes will feel a tingling, burning, or itching feeling, in the place where they are about to have an outbreak a few hours or couple days beforehand. Often outbreaks will appear around the vagina, vulva, cervix, anus, buttocks, or penis, though sometimes sores can appear on a person’s thighs or legs. Outbreaks usually appear as small lesions or a cluster of blistery sores that can be range in size from a couple millimeters to nearly a centimeter. Sores look red, and develop an open center, which can look like a cold sore, or cauliflower.
A person’s first outbreak, or initial episode, is often their worst. Outbreaks can be accompanied by pain, headache, flu-like feelings, tender glands in pelvic area, burning or itching feelings, swelling, or even the inability to pee if sores block the urethra. Typically a first outbreak will occur within 3 weeks of exposure to herpes, though some people will not show symptoms for many years. Initial herpes sore will heal in 2 weeks to a month, in subsequent episodes, sores will usually heal within about 10 to 14 days. Stress, poor-diet, lack of sleep, or a compromised immune system contribute to recurrent outbreaks.
Anti-viral pills such as Valtrex (generic: Valacyclovir), (generic: Acyclovir), are used for suppressive therapy (taking a pill daily) and to treat outbreaks. Using anti-virals drastically reduces a partner’s chance of getting herpes from the partner that has herpes. People that do not use medications or still get outbreaks sometimes use home remedies to help reduce outbreak frequency or heal sores faster, including taking echinacea or applying baking soda to sores. This article offers other home remedy suggestions from Positive Singles members.
Facts about genital herpes:
– Even if your partner is showing no signs of herpes, you can still get it.
– You cannot get herpes from an inanimate object.
– Condoms may reduce, but do not eliminate the risk of getting herpes.
– Herpes is spread by skin-to-skin contact, which includes kissing, vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
– Transmission from an infected male to a female is greater than from a female to a male (thus, herpes is more common in women than men).
– Having symptoms of herpes does not mean you actually have herpes, only a blood test can confirm this!
– There is no cure for herpes.
– The disease can appear to have disappeared though it is just lying dormant in the body. Symptoms sometimes return days, weeks, or years later, but some people never show symptoms or only have one outbreak and then none after that. It all depends on the individual’s immune system.
– It is extremely important for pregnant women who have herpes to take anti-viral medication the last month or so of their pregnancy to avoid passing herpes along to their baby. It is also important for an infected partner of a pregnant woman to consider suppressive therapy and have protected sex during the duration of the pregnancy, to limit exposure.
Genital herpes outbreaks look different at the beginning stage and at the end stage (after sores have burst). It is important to note that herpes has variation in appearance for different people at different stages. View photos of HSV-I and HSV-II on the STD Project’s site here.
To find a location to get tested for herpes, visit our resources page, or Google test centers in your area. If you have genital herpes and you want to find a support group, check out this list to see if there are any locations near you. Download the Herpes Handbook – which includes the latest facts and research about genital and oral herpes – from Westover Heights Clinic here.
***This is a blog and the information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, nor is it meant to take the place of your personal physician’s advice.***