Herpes is a prevalent sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This article aims to provide you with essential information about herpes, including its types, transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Types of Herpes
There are two primary types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 commonly causes oral herpes, characterized by cold sores or fever blisters on or around the mouth. HSV-2 typically causes genital herpes. However, both types can cause infections in either the oral or genital areas.
HSV is primarily transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact, typically during sexual activities such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can be spread even when visible sores are not present, as the virus can be shed from the skin or mucosal surfaces where it lies dormant. While condoms can reduce the risk of transmission when sores are present, they cannot provide complete protection since HSV can infect areas not covered by a condom.
Many individuals infected with HSV may not experience any symptoms or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for other skin conditions. Oral herpes typically presents as small, painful blisters or ulcers on the lips, mouth, gums, or throat. When symptoms are present, genital herpes may manifest as:
– Itching or pain around the genitals
– Blisters or Small bumps around the genitals, anus or mouth
– Painful ulcers that form when blisters rupture and ooze or bleed
– Scabs that form as the ulcers heal
– Painful urination
– Discharge from the urethra, the tube that releases urine from the body
– Discharge from the vagina
Initial outbreaks, known as primary episodes, tend to be more severe than subsequent outbreaks, which are called recurrent episodes. Over time, recurrent outbreaks often become less severe and of shorter duration. It’s important to note that some individuals may never experience recurrent outbreaks after their initial symptoms.
Herpes is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and physical examination. However, laboratory tests can confirm the diagnosis. Viral culture or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests of lesions can detect the presence of the virus. Blood tests can also identify HSV antibodies, but they do not determine the location of infection or predict the development of symptoms.
Although there is no cure for herpes, antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir can be prescribed to manage outbreaks, reduce symptoms, and suppress recurrent episodes. These medications are most effective when taken early during an outbreak. Additionally, daily antiviral suppression therapy may be recommended for individuals with frequent outbreaks. Topical antiviral creams can provide some relief from symptoms.
While complete prevention is challenging, certain measures can help reduce the risk of herpes transmission. Consistent and correct condom use, abstaining from sexual activity during outbreaks, and daily antiviral suppression therapy (if indicated) can lower the transmission risk. It’s important to note that these measures cannot completely eliminate the risk of transmission. Currently, there is no widely available herpes vaccine, although vaccine research is ongoing.
By understanding the types, transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of herpes, individuals can make informed decisions about their sexual health and take appropriate steps to manage the infection. If you wish to test for herpes 2 from the comfort of your home with absolute privacy, you can consider our at home herpes test kit. For personalized advice and further information, consulting a healthcare provider is also recommended.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm
2. Workowski KA, Bolan GA; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2015;64(RR-03):1-137. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6403a1.htm
3. Herpes Genitalis: Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes
4. Amanda M Casto, Christine Johnston; Human Herpes Viruses: Herpes Simplex Virus Types 1 and 2 https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-1-4939-9544-8_36-1
5. World Health Organization – Herpes Simplex Virus https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
6. MayoClinic – Genital Herpes https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/symptoms-causes/syc-20356161