Did you know innocent-looking cold sores are actually a form of herpes?
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about this enduring sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Herpes simplex 1, or HSV-1, is the virus that causes cold sores visible around the lips and in the mouth. Sharing beverages, sharing silverware or cups, kissing, etc. enhances the spread of the virus, often in childhood.
Herpes simplex 2, or HSV-2, is the virus that causes blisters around the genitalia and rectum. Typically when someone uses the word ‘herpes’ this is the infection to which they are referring. This virus is spread primarily by oral, anal, or vaginal sexual encounters.
Herpes is a viral infection – it cannot be cured. However there are medications to lesson symptoms and help prevent breakouts. Antibiotics do not work for this viral infection.
Both strains of the herpes virus cause oral and genital herpes.
Genital herpes often shows no symptoms or may look nondescript – like a little pimple – so the owner of this disease does not realize they are infected and may unknowingly share it with their partner.
Symptoms of genital herpes may include a general sense of not feeling well and one or more fluid-filled blisters and/or sores around the infected area (including the mouth as well as the vagina, penis, and rectum). Typically after the first year symptoms occur less frequently, but the virus will continue to inhabit the infected person’s body. In other words, the virus can still be shared amongst lovers even as the symptoms lessen over time.
The fluid inside the blisters is loaded with the virus. Hand-washing is a must. Avoid touching other parts of the body – the virus is not too particular where it resides. Even the eyes.
I know, right?!
The only way to prevent infection is to abstain. In fact, that is the only way to ever prevent any STI or pregnancy. Since most humans eventually have sex, this is not always practical advice. Using a condom properly can help prevent infection, but because any skin contact can transfer the virus, it is not super effective against this particular STI. Just the same, use a condom. Please.
If you or your partner have an STI, get tested for herpes as well. If you have the slightest question about having contracted herpes, get tested. If you are entering into a new intimate relationship, you and your partner should be tested for STI’s, including herpes. If you or your partner has a herpes outbreak, abstain from sex until the symptoms are gone, which can take up to a month. See your healthcare provider for care and guidance.
It is important to talk to your partner about your sexual health, especially when it comes to sexually transmitted infections. It is not always an easy conversation, but in a committed, loving relationship it will help build intimacy.
For more information, go to the CDC website: Genital Herpes – STD Fact Sheet
(Photos: Adobe Stock)