What Is Herpes?
Herpes’s official name is Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). It’s passed through lesions, mucous membranes, and secretions, including infected saliva. There are two types of herpes viruses.
HSV 1 is commonly called oral (mouth) herpes or cold sores. HSV 2 is genital herpes. However, both HSV 1 & 2 can infect the genital, mouth, and/or rectum.
- Vesicles, which are small, thin-walled blisters around the genitals, mouth, or rectum
- Popped vesicles, which become painful ulcers that take 2-4 weeks to heal
This is called an outbreak and typically happens around 4 (but as many as 12) days after exposure unless you’re asymptomatic. You may have whole-body symptoms during your first outbreak, such as swollen lymph nodes, an achy body, headache, and fever. A noticeable tingling sensation happens before outbreaks. Occurrences typically become less frequent over time.
What Causes Herpes?
The cold sores on the mouth caused by HSV 1 are usually acquired in childhood by close contact with people who have the virus. For example, kissing someone on the cheek near a sore or drinking from a shared cup. But It’s much more common to get HSV 1 or 2 through sexual activities when someone is experiencing symptoms. However, some people have no symptoms.
Fact or Myth: Getting Herpes from Toilet Seats or Kissing
It’s rare to contract HSV through an object like a toilet seat because it doesn’t stay alive long off the body. This doesn’t mean it can’t happen. You can absolutely get it from kissing on the mouth or having oral sex without a condom.
Risks & Dangers
Long-term impacts can include scarring. But HSV can also move to the brain, where it causes aseptic meningitis (a dangerous type of inflammation). A pregnant person can pass herpes to their child during birth.
Statistics to Know
Rates May Be Much Higher
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US, nearly 12% of people 14 to 49 have the HSV 2 form of herpes. That’s 18.6 million people. The CDC notes that the older you get in that range, the more likely you will have it.
Actual rates of genital herpes are higher than prevalence suggests because this doesn’t count when someone has HSV 1 infecting their genitals.
Screening & Testing for Herpes in Denver
The CDC only recommends testing for people with symptoms and doesn’t recommend screening people with no symptoms. Many cases probably go undiagnosed because many people have no symptoms. Those who are pregnant should be screened as early as possible.
If you’ve recently had an STD screening as part of a standard annual sexual health/STD screening, know that providers don’t usually order HSV testing unless you had symptoms during your exam.
If you believe you’ve been exposed, then you should get tested. A blood test can check for both HSV 1 & 2. However, if you’ve recently been exposed, it may take weeks for it to show up on a blood test.
Is Herpes Curable or Treatable?
Herpes is not curable. But anti-viral medications can make outbreaks less frequent, which can also lower the risk that you’ll spread herpes to others.