What is Herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is more commonly known as “oral herpes” while HSV-2 is “genital herpes.” As a result, most genital herpes is caused by the transmission of HSV-2. Most individuals experience either mild or nonexistent symptoms after contracting herpes. When symptoms do occur, they typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. When the blisters break. they leave tender ulcers (sores) that may take two to four weeks to heal. Typically, another outbreak can appear weeks or months after the first, but it almost always is less severe and shorter than the first outbreak. Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over time.
How Do They Test for Herpes?
Medical professionals can use several different methods to test for herpes. The three different types of herpes tests are cell culture tests, PCR tests, and blood tests. Medical professionals will most often use either a cell culture or PCR test when patients are exhibiting symptoms of the infection. Cell culture tests involve taking a small sample from a herpes blister and examining it in the lab.
If a cell culture test is not possible, medical professionals may then collect a sample from the urinary tract, a herpes sore, spinal fluid, or bloodstream to run a PCR test. PCR tests analyze a person’s DNA to detect the presence of herpes.
When no symptoms are present, medical professionals will likely recommend a blood test to determine whether or not a person has herpes. Like other blood tests for STDs, herpes blood tests aim to identify antibodies created to combat the virus.
All herpes tests are painless and fairly routine. They don’t take long to complete, and, at Same Day STD Testing, we strive to relay test results back to our patients as quickly as possible.
How Common is Genital Herpes?
Results of a nationally representative study show that genital herpes infection is common in the United States. Nationwide, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older –– or one out of five adolescents and adults –– have genital herpes. Over the past decade, the percentage of Americans with HSV-1 has decreased, however that also means people are more susceptible to contracting genitals herpes from HSV-1.
Genital HSV-2 infection is more common in women (approximately one out of four women) than in men (almost one out of five). This is because male-to-female transmission is more likely than female-to-male transmission.
How Do I Get Genital Herpes?
Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be transferred from person to person through sexual –– and some non-sexual –– contact. It’s more likely for individuals to spread or contract herpes during an outbreak when blisters are present, but herpes can still spread even when symptoms aren’t present. Generally, a person can only get HSV-2 infection during sexual contact with someone who has a genital HSV-2 infection. Transmission can occur from an infected partner who does not have a visible sore and may not know that he or she is infected.
HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, but it more commonly causes infections of the mouth and lips, so-called “fever blisters.” You can, for instance, get herpes from kissing someone. HSV-1 infection of the genitals can be caused by oral-genital or genital-genital contact with a person who has HSV-1 infection. Genital HSV-1 outbreaks recur less regularly than genital HSV-2 outbreaks.
(Note: condoms may not prevent the spread of herpes through skin-to-skin contact.)
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
Most people infected with HSV-2 are not aware of their infection. However, the signs and symptoms of herpes during an initial outbreak can be quite pronounced. The first outbreak usually occurs within two weeks after the virus is transmitted, but the sores will also typically heal within two-to-four weeks. (This does not mean the virus has left the body.) Other signs and symptoms during the primary episode may include a second crop of sores, and flu-like symptoms, such as fever and swollen glands. However, most individuals with HSV-2 infection never have sores, or they have very mild signs that they do not even notice or that they mistake for insect bites or other skin conditions –– like ingrown hairs or acne.
People who have one genital herpes outbreak can expect to have several (typically four or five) more (symptomatic recurrences) within a year. Over time, these outbreaks usually decrease in frequency. It is possible for a person to only become aware of the “first episode” years after the infection is acquired.
What are the Complications of Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes can cause recurrent painful genital sores in many adults, and a herpes infection can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems. Regardless of severity of symptoms, genital herpes frequently causes psychological distress in people who know they are infected.
In addition, HSV-2 can lead to potentially fatal infections in babies. It is important that women avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy because a newly acquired infection during late pregnancy poses a greater risk of transmission to the baby. If a woman has active genital herpes at delivery, a cesarean section is usually performed. Fortunately, infection of a baby from a woman with herpes infection is rare.
Herpes may play a role in the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Herpes can make people more susceptible to HIV infection, and it can make HIV-infected individuals more likely to spread the infection to others.
Is There a Treatment for Herpes?
There is no treatment that can cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy for symptomatic herpes can reduce the risk of transmission to partners.
How can Herpes be Prevented?
The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases –– including genital herpes –– is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected. As mentioned above though, herpes is particularly difficult to prevent because it can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.
If you have additional questions, or you would like to schedule a test, please contact us. Calls are always confidential.
Call us now at (844) 394-8520 and get tested today!