Genital Herpes

What is it?

Her­pes is a very com­mon STI caused by a virus that caus­es painful sores, often on the lips or around the gen­i­tals. It can be symp­to­matic (show­ing symp­toms) at times, and asymp­to­matic (no symp­toms) at oth­er times. Whether there are signs of it or not, the her­pes virus will always live in the same place on your body.

How do I get it?

It can be passed to anoth­er per­son who has direct con­tact with an open sore but it can also be passed from per­son to per­son before the sore is vis­i­ble. There are two types of her­pes. Peo­ple often think that the first type affects the mouth and the sec­ond type affects the gen­i­tal area. This isn’t exact­ly true – both types of the virus can affect the gen­i­tals, anus, and mouth and both types of virus can be passed from mouth to genitals/​anus.

Hav­ing her­pes on your mouth does not mean that you also have her­pes on your genitals/​anus; it must be trans­mit­ted through phys­i­cal con­tact from one area to another.

What should I be look­ing for?

With­in the first week of get­ting her­pes, you might feel a tingling/​itching feel­ing where the virus has land­ed. A clus­ter of tiny blis­ters may appear and you may get a headache/​fever. These blis­ters will burst, leav­ing painful sores that last about two to three weeks. These out­breaks will hap­pen every once in a while, main­ly occur­ring when you’re tired or stressed. The first out­break is always the worst.

It’s impor­tant to say that not every­one with her­pes will have an out­break. Some peo­ple may have a first out­break and then nev­er have one again. You should be on the look­out for any sores/​bumps/​lumps that look like blis­ters and may be painful to the touch. Even when you don’t have any sores it’s still pos­si­ble to pass on the virus. Hav­ing safer sex (con­doms, den­tal dams) reduces the chances of pass­ing it on. How­ev­er, keep in mind that a con­dom only pro­tects the area that it covers.

Canker Sores and Cold Sores – Which ones are Herpes?

Cold sores are painful sores on your lip. They are a form of her­pes and are con­ta­gious. Canker sores are small whitish ulcers that some­times appear inside the mouth and under the tongue. They are NOT a form of her­pes and are not con­ta­gious. How­ev­er, because virus­es can enter the blood­stream through cuts and open sores, be care­ful to prac­tice safer sex if you have a canker sore in your mouth.

How do I get tested?

To have her­pes diag­nosed, you need to have vis­i­ble symp­toms. A doc­tor or nurse prac­ti­tion­er can tell you that you have her­pes sim­ply by see­ing the lesions, or by swab­bing the liq­uid in the blis­ters and send­ing it for a test. No one can tell if you have her­pes if you don’t have any symp­toms, so if you have an out­break of sores, don’t wait to go to a clinic!

Can I get rid of it?

There is no cure for her­pes. The impor­tant thing is to treat your symp­toms. There is med­ica­tion that can be used to min­i­mize the pain of the out­breaks and you might want to wear loose cloth­ing for com­fort. There is also med­ica­tion avail­able to decrease the num­ber of out­breaks you have. It’s impor­tant to con­sid­er inform­ing any­one you’re hav­ing sex with that you car­ry the virus and to prac­tice safer sex.

While you have sores (on your mouth or your gen­i­tals or anus), it’s a good idea to take a break from all sex which might infect anoth­er per­son. Keep­ing your stress lev­el down and get­ting as much sleep as pos­si­ble is also help­ful, as is stay­ing out of the sun. Too much sun can acti­vate the virus, caus­ing sores to erupt.

Final­ly, her­pes can cause poten­tial­ly seri­ous com­pli­ca­tions for babies born to an infect­ed moth­er, so it’s impor­tant to let your health care provider know if you’re preg­nant and have a his­to­ry of her­pes, so that you can min­i­mize the risks.