Genital herpes is very common in the United States and across the world. Research shows that up to 20% of all sexually active people in America have it. That’s one out of every six. That’s a lot. The scary part is many of them don’t even know they have it.
The herpes infection is caused by a virus. There are two types. The first type, herpes simplex – 1, causes what is commonly referred to as a “cold sore” or a “bump bump” in the mouth or on the lips. There is over-the-counter medication that is available to treat this.
The second type is called herpes simplex -2. This is the genital herpes virus. It is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Anyone who tests positive for this infection can spread it to others through sexual activity. When a person comes in contact with another person that has it, they can get it too. Even when the infected person does not have any symptoms they can pass it along. Using a condom does not always protect people from catching it. Not having sex (called abstinence) is the only way to completely avoid the risk of contracting it. So how do you know if you have it? The only way to know is by taking an STD test.
It’s crazy how genital herpes lives inside the body. What happens is the virus gets into the system through the skin. Then, it travels inside the body and into the nerves where it lives forever. It may never become active and just live inside a person for their entire life. However, it may decide it wants to become active at any time. This activity is characterized by what doctors call an “outbreak”. An outbreak is when blisters and/or open sores appear in and around the genital and/or anal region. Most of the time, these blisters will eventually create a scab and heal over the course of a few weeks. But, outbreaks can occur over and over again as long as you live.
These are not the only symptoms though. Other symptoms can include: sores inside the tube that urine passes through (called the urethra), pain during urination (especially in women), swollen glands, and fever. Some people even complain of headaches and back aches. An STD test is the only way to tell if these symptoms are from genital herpes or something else.
Once a person is infected, symptoms can show up within a few days or it may take a couple weeks. But sometimes people can have it for years and never show symptoms at all until suddenly one day they notice open sores on their genitals. The symptoms can be mild where a person barely notices them. They may also be very painful and severe. Either way, it is important to get tested by a lab and treated by a doctor. There are prescription medications that can be taken to keep outbreaks and other symptoms to a minimum.
It is important to keep outbreaks to a minimum and not touch the sores when they occur. The fluid from a sore can be transferred to another part of the body through touching. For example, if somebody touches a sore and then touches their eye, they could transfer the infection to their eye.
Genital herpes can be especially harmful to females. If left untreated, this infection can cause miscarriages or early delivery to pregnant women. It is recommended that pregnant women have a cesarean birth instead of a vaginal one. This reduces the risk of giving the herpes virus to the baby.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of contracting herpes. The first, best, and only way to avoid contact with the virus is by not having sex or engaging in sexual activity. This is called abstinence. Anyone who is not abstinent is at risk.
Being in a monogamous relationship (meaning with only one person) that has a negative STD test definitely reduces your risk, but you never know when or if your partner may cheat. Using latex condoms during all sexual activity is another way to reduce the risk. However, condoms may not prevent you from catching it. Areas of the genitals and the anus that are not covered by the condom may still carry the infection and cause it to be passed on. So how do you know if you or your partner has it? Once again, an STD test is the only way to tell if you have the genital herpes virus.