Treating Herpes

2 min read

What is it?
Herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be caused by two different forms of Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV): 

  • HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes. An outbreak of oral herpes happens around your lips, mouth, and throat, and is sometimes referred to as cold sores. According to the World Health Organization, 3.7 billion people in the world under age 50 have HSV-1.
  • HSV-2 typically causes genital herpes. Genital herpes can cause an outbreak around the vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, penis, scrotum, buttocks, and inner thighs. More than 417 million people have herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). 

Herpes can be dormant in the body (no visible signs) or active (causing outbreaks).

How do I know if I have it?
Whether you have either HSV-1 or HSV-2, it’s possible to get outbreaks in both areas (the mouth and/or genitals). If you’re having an outbreak of symptoms, it’s best to get tested by a medical provider. The doctor will likely do a skin swab of the outbreak.

Some people who have herpes don’t experience symptoms at all. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, you can still be a carrier, so it’s important to get tested regularly if you’re sexually active.

What are the symptoms?
You may find out you’ve contracted oral herpes if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Ulcers (cold sores) around the lips, mouth, or throat
  • Burning or tingling on or around the lips

You may find out you’ve contracted genital herpes if you experience the following symptoms 2-12 days after exposure: 

  • Pain or itching: You may experience pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears. 
  • Small red bumps or tiny white blisters: These may appear a few days to a few weeks after infection. 
  • Oozing and crusting: Ulcers may form when blisters rupture and ooze or bleed. Ulcers may make it painful to urinate.

You should be careful not to touch the infected part of your body and then touch other parts of your body because the virus can spread. The virus cannot survive for long outside of the body, so there is no risk of getting herpes by touching another object. 

How is herpes spread? 
Herpes is spread through:

  • Contact with a herpes sore, or the saliva or a person with a herpes infection in the mouth
  • Contact with genital fluids of a person with a herpes infection on their genitals

How can my partner or I prevent contracting herpes?
In order to prevent genital herpes and all STIs, you or your partner can wear a condom during sexual contact. However, because the virus can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, condoms will not protect you 100% of the time because they may not cover the infected area of the body. You can have a conversation with sexual partners before engaging in sexual activity to disclose any history of STIs. 

Is herpes curable?
There is not a specific “cure” for herpes. Outbreaks can happen throughout a person’s life once they are exposed. However, treatment can help alleviate the symptoms and reduce the risk of contracting herpes for sexual partners. 

Treatment can be used either when an outbreak occurs, or on a daily basis to prevent outbreaks. If outbreaks occur repeatedly, the doctor may prescribe you a medicine called Valacyclovir to take once daily. If it’s a single episode, the doctor may have you take Valacyclovir twice daily for three days. 

With the participation of
Dr. Eddie Garcia

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