What Is Herpes?
Everything You Need To Know About Herpes!
In general when we hear the word herpes, or STD or STI our heart sinks. We become paralyzed and think, no way this is happening to me. Right? We also hear the word herpes and think, what the heck is it or oh I better google that. Since launching Life With Herpes in June of 2017, I’ve heard pretty much everything when it comes to herpes. Just an FYI...nothing is TMI. So if you DM me don’t be afraid to say it and don’t hold back. I’ve heard things like…
- I don’t want to die from getting herpes!
- Eww gross the blisters are gross, will they scare?
- Why me, I feel like my life is over what do I do?
- Is the itch on my balls the herpes coming on?
- How did I get it, I never had sex!
- I’ve been with the same partner for 2 years and now it just showed up, how is this possible?
- If I have it down there will it show up there?
Do any of these sound familiar? You betcha. I had thoughts and questions like these too, except the balls part...lol Our society has done a great job of making us feel like lepers and an even better job of not educating us so this leaves us without knowledge of how to properly take care of the herpes virus and prevent outbreaks as well as prevent transmission.
So here it is. Here’s the 101 on Herpes!
What is herpes?
Herpes is known as the Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV1 or HSV2. HSV1 is most commonly associated with oral herpes and HSV2 is most common in the genital region. Because herpes is a virus it means you will have herpes for the rest of your life. In other words, at this point, there is no cure for herpes. Sorry! When the virus is not active it will lie dormant along your nervous system until it wakes up and decides to rise to the surface of your skin and cause an outbreak. Think of it like a volcano, some are active some are dormant and some you just really don't know when they are going to explode.
What does it look like?
In some people, they describe their outbreak like a papercut. And some people describe their blister as a liquid filled blister. Some outbreaks are just one blister and other outbreaks can have a cluster of blisters. The blister will take on different appearances depending on if it’s in the infancy stage of the outbreak or if it’s in the healing phase. The beginning can look like a small bump or a cluster of small bumps, then they can fill with fluid or they are open and can look like paper cuts. The final stage is the scab stage where the blister has a small scab on it. Lesions can take the form of; a red spot, a pimple, an ingrown hair, razor burn, and a bug bite.
How do I know if I have herpes?
The best way to determine if you have herpes is to see a medical professional and get tested. Of the 16.2% of people who have HSV2 80% of them don’t know they have it. That number is unbelievably high and quite scary. Get tested and find out. In so many cases an outbreak goes unnoticed or misdiagnosed basically because we don’t want to admit we have it. Your test results will let you know if you have HSV1 or HSV2.
What are some of the symptoms of herpes?
There is a long list of herpes outbreak symptoms and for everyone, they will be different. I like to use the example of having a cold. Everyone has a little bit of different symptoms but at the end of the day, it’s a cold. Here are the herpes symptoms:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Swollen glands in your pelvic area, throat or under your arms
- Body aches
- Pain around your genitals
- Inflammation around your genitals
- Difficult peeing because sores can block the urethra
- Nerve pain
Will I die from herpes?
No, you will not die from herpes. Herpes is just a skin disease and that is it.
If I’m exposed to herpes how long before it shows up?
The typical incubations time is 2-14 days. However, in some people, it can take weeks, months and years before it is noticed.
Can I be herpes positive without having an outbreak?
No, if you are testing positive for herpes then at some point you’ve had an outbreak. If there is a blood test administered then the test is looking for the herpes antibody. The way our bodies work is when there is a foreign object such as a virus our body goes to work with our fighter T cells to protect us and the result are antibodies. So if we have herpes antibodies then we have the herpes virus and somewhere along the way, we had an outbreak.
How do you test for herpes?
There are two types of tests, a swab test or a blood test. Typically if a person is showing blisters then the medical provider will swab the blister. If there are no blisters present and it’s a routine check-up there will be a blood draw to look for the herpes antibody. I went into great detail so check it out here.
Are Oral Herpes and Genital Herpes different?
Yes and no. They are both herpes but they are different strains. At the end of the day they both do the same thing, cause a blister. HSV1 is most common in the oral region and can also be known as oral herpes, fever blisters or cold sores. HSV2 mostly appears in the genital region and known as genital herpes. However, either type, 1 or 2, can go to any spot.
What are the signs of genital herpes?
Genital herpes can appear anywhere in the genital region. For both men and women it can show up; your butt, your anus, inside of your thighs or below your belly button. For men, you can get an outbreak; on your penis, on your balls, or anywhere in that area. And for women, you can get outbreaks; on your vagina, inside your vaginal canal and even up to your cervix.
What are the signs of oral herpes?
Oral herpes likes to show up around your mouth. Blisters can appear on the lip or just outside of the lip. Sometimes the outbreak can travel up your face but the outbreak will begin around your mouth.
Is a cold sore herpes?
Yes, cold sores are the same thing as herpes.
If I have oral herpes can I get an outbreak genitally or visa versa?
If you have HSV1 and it is orally then you will get outbreaks orally. If you have HSV2 and get outbreaks genitally then you will get outbreaks genitally. A lot of times people ask if they have oral herpes will it show up genitally and the answer is no. The only way that can happen would be if that area was infected with the virus. Wherever you have your outbreaks is where you will continue to have your outbreaks.
How is herpes transmitted?
Herpes is skin to skin transmission. So when an infected person comes into contact with an uninfected person they can potentially transmit the virus. This can happen with kissing and touching. The virus likes moist wet areas so it is possible for the virus to be transmitted by another vehicle such as a lipstick or sharing utensils or drinks.
Can I pass herpes without an outbreak?
Unfortunately, herpes can be transmitted without an outbreak. It’s called asymptomatic shedding. Asymptomatic shedding is when the virus decides to shed and the virus pops up to the surface of the skin. There are no symptoms and the infected person has no clue this is going on. At this point, the virus can be passed and transmitted.
What sexual acts can transmit herpes?
Pretty much any sexual act can transmit herpes. I know...its a real bummer. So vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex, foreplay, fondling, and even masturbation can transmit herpes.
How common is herpes?
Herpes is so common and I can guarantee you that someone in your family has it too, they’re just not telling you. For HSV1 ⅔ or 217 million Americans have it and for HSV2 ⅙ people or 25 million Americans have it. That's a ton of people so please don’t feel alone. Of the 16.2% of people with HSV2 or genital herpes, 80% don’t even know they have it.
How do I get tested for herpes?
One of the reasons why herpes is taboo and it's becoming an epidemic is because a herpes test is not included in the typical STD check up. A patient specifically has to ask for a herpes test. Not knowing this has become a surprise to many of us who suddenly get test results back and were like what? How did this happen? You can go to planned parenthood or your healthcare provider and ask them for a herpes test.
What are the herpes stats?
- ⅔ or 217 million Americans have HSV1
- ⅙ or 25 million Americans have HSV2
- 25% of women and 20% of men have HSV2
- Herpes male to non-herpes female transmission rate is 10%
- Herpes female to non- herpes male transmission rate is 4%
Based on no sex during active outbreaks, non-use of daily antivirals, and non use of condoms
- Condoms reduce transmission by 30%-50%
- Daily antiviral suppression reduce transmission by 48%
- 50% of genital transmission via oral sex is HSV1
References: American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/ Center of Disease Control (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/ Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/ WebMD https://www.webmd.com/