11 answers to all the questions about herpes you've been too embarrassed to ask
- There are two types of herpes: Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 (HSV-2).
- Genital herpes can cause painful sores.
- Herpes can be contracted in many ways including kissing, sharing straws, and having sex.
- There's no cure for herpes but some medications can help with outbreaks.
Update: A previous version of this article contained quotes from an expert whose credentials are now in question. We have reached out to him for confirmation of those credentials and have not heard back. You can read Gizmodo's investigation here, and his response here.
For those who have it, herpes can be a sometimes painful condition that often carries a social stigma with it. However, the herpes virus is actually incredibly common.
According to the CDC, more than one out of every six people in the US between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes.
Furthermore, the World Health Organisation estimates that about 67% of people under the age of 50 around the globe already have the herpes simplex virus, also known as herpes Type 1.
We answered all of the questions you may have about herpes but may have been too afraid to ask.
Are there different kinds of herpes?
There are two types of herpes: Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 (HSV-2).
Type 1 is best known as oral herpes and Type 2 is best known as genital herpes.
Both forms of herpes are contagious and usually lead to the appearance of painful sores on the body.
What's the most common way herpes is transmitted?
Any kind of contact with the secretions of someone with the virus can expose you to herpes. The contact doesn't need to be sexual - it can be as simple as sharing a soda straw or kissing a family member on the cheek.
You might also be exposed to herpes Type 1 through sharing eating utensils, lip balm, towels, or razors. Type 2 is typically contracted when someone has sexual contact with a person who has sores.
Using a latex condom can help reduce your risk of contracting herpes during sex. However, since condoms do not cover the entire genital region and the herpes virus can be released from parts of the skin that do not have visible herpes lesions, it is still possible to get herpes while using a condom.
Can you get herpes from oral or anal sex?
It's a myth that you don't have to worry about contracting herpes from oral or anal sex. Having any kind of sexual contact with someone experiencing an active herpes infection puts you at risk of exposure.
Can you get genital herpes without having sex?
Contrary to what you might have heard, a person can have genital herpes without ever having had sex.
Infants delivered vaginally by individuals with an active genital herpes infection are at risk of contracting herpes Type 2. This is because babies exiting the birth canal may come into direct contact with herpes lesions. But it's worth noting that neonatal herpes is very rare.
What are the most common signs of herpes?
The most common sign that you may have a herpes infection is visible blisters around your mouth or genitals. It's also possible that you might experience systemic symptoms such as fever or fatigue.
Can you have herpes without ever experiencing symptoms?
It's very possible that you may already have the herpes virus inside you, even if you've never experienced any obvious symptoms. The absence of sores or blisters doesn't mean that you haven't been exposed to the virus. Symptoms can lay dormant for years.
The sudden appearance of sores around your mouth or genitals should lead you to make an appointment with your doctor, even if you haven't experienced any recent sexual contact with someone who could have had the virus.
What's the difference between herpes and cold sores?
You may have heard that cold sores and herpes are related, but what's the actual connection between those annoying spots and the herpes virus?
Cold sores are generally caused by herpes Type 1. Though they often present around the mouth, some people can also get them on the nose or fingers.
According to WebMD, about 90% of people experience at least one cold sore at some point in their life. Although some people actually develop antibodies after the first infection and never experience a recurrence, around 40% of US adults have had more than one cold sore episode.
Is there a cure for herpes?
Unfortunately, there is currently no permanent cure for herpes Type 1 or Type 2. Although the condition can usually be treated and outbreaks can be greatly minimized for many people, the virus is highly evasive to treatment, making it particularly hard to develop solutions to.
How can you avoid getting herpes?
If you're looking to safeguard yourself against herpes, there isn't any perfect solution.
Using a condom and taking steps to determine the sexual health of any prospective partners can help you reduce your chances of being exposed to the virus.
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