You have likely heard of the term herpes but do you know what exactly it is or how it is spread? By educating yourself about oral herpes and genital herpes, you can take preventive measures to protect yourself and lower your risks of contracting the infection.
Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that stems from the herpes simplex virus (HSV). You can get the infection by coming into contact (skin to skin) with an active herpes lesion. Herpes is divided into two types, oral and genital.
Oral herpes, also commonly known as HSV-1 shows up in the form of painful cold sores around or in the mouth. The infection can be transmitted by someone who has an active outbreak, such as through oral sex via the mouth or skin to skin contact like kissing.
Genital herpes, also called HSV-2, is transmitted through sexual contact (or shared sexual toys) and causes painful blisters around the genital areas.
Are you worried that you may have been infected with the herpes virus? Then the only way to truly find out is to get tested.
If you think you are experiencing an outbreak, read about triggers and symptoms of an outbreak.
In the US, genital herpes is present in about 45 million people. Here are some other interesting facts about the STI:
- Genital herpes is more common in women than men.
- 1 in 5 Americans (adolescents and adults) have HSV-2.
- Race is a risk marker of HSV-2 in the US; contracting the virus is more common in black people than white people.
- Other risk factors for genital herpes infection include illegal drug use, poverty and how accessible is health care.
- Worldwide estimates that about 536 million people aged 15-49 years are infected with HSV-2.
Common Myths About Herpes That You Should Be Wary Of
I. Only sexually promiscuous people get herpes.
False! It only takes one occasion of sex with someone infected herpes to contract it.
II. Herpes are only contagious when you can see a blister.
There is some truth in it but the statement is not 100% correct. Not all individuals who are infected with a herpes infection show up with a blister. Some symptoms may appear like a pimple or small cuts on the skin that is quite inconspicuous to be noticed. So even when physical symptoms does not visibly show, there is still a chance that it is still spreadable.
III. The cold sore virus cannot be spread to the genital area.
False. If partner A with an active cold sore outbreak, performs oral sex on an unknowing partner B, then partner B will get the herpes infection that is classified as HSV-1 on his or her genitals.
IV. Genital herpes can only be transmitted via genital sex.
Incorrect! It can be transmitted to the anus or mouth region via anal and oral sex too.
V. Condoms can completely prevent one from getting infected with herpes.
Condom can only minimize the risks of infection during sexual intimacy but cannot 100% protect you from the virus. Genitals contact with an infected region not covered by the condom can still spread the infection.
VI. One can contract genital herpes from sharing toilet seats.
Most people who use the toilet seats do not have their genitals come into direct contact with the seat itself so it is very unlikely that you would get the infection from a toilet seat.
Moreover, the virus dies very quickly once it is exposed outside of the body, so it is nearly impossible to get the infection through sharing of toilet seats.
Furthermore, until now, there have not been any proven medical records to prove that someone contacted genital herpes through the use or sharing of toilet seats.
VII. It’s risky living in the same house as someone who has the herpes virus.
Most people worry about the sharing of clothes, bed sheets, soaps, towels, toilet seats and eating utensils with a family member or room mate who has the herpes virus.
First of all, oral and genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is spread by skin–to–skin contact. You can catch the virus if you touch or have skin to skin contact with a herpes blister. However, the virus does not spread in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes nor does it spread by using or sharing inanimate objects together.
What Happens Once One Contracts Herpes?
Once a person have been infected with herpes, the virus stays with the individual for life. There is no permanent cure for it at the moment but the infection can be managed to control the frequency of the outbreaks.
Typically within the first 3 to 14 days of infection, one will experience the first active outbreak of painful blisters that will last about 3 to 6 weeks. This first outbreak is commonly referred to as the primary outbreak.
Anti-viral oral prescriptions can be use to effectively treat the pain and symptoms as well as manage future outbreaks.
It is important to point out that not all individuals who contracted herpes will experience their first primary outbreak. For some individuals, they may not experience or exhibit any painful physical outbreaks other than generalized symptoms of fever, headaches, muscle aches, swollen lymph node in the groin, pain while urinating or unusual genital discharge.
Beyond the first outbreak, 8 out of every 10 people will go on to have another outbreak within the next 6 months. Recurrent outbreaks can be triggered though physical, emotional, physiological stress, fever, disease, long term exposure to sunlight, menstruation, lack of sleep, or surgery.
What To Do When One Suspects Having The Herpes Virus?
If you suspect that you or someone is infected with herpes, the best way forward is to get tested immediately, particularly if there are active physical symptoms, like blisters around the mouth or genital areas.
You can read more about herpes testing here…
What Can One Do To Reduce The Risk Of Infection?
- Keep your mouth (no kissing) and hands away from a suspected cold sore especially if they are blistered. Wash your hands immediately if you believed you had accidentally come into contact with a herpes sore.
- To minimize the risk of genital herpes, always practice safe sex with the use of condoms with your partners.
- Before having any intimate sexual contact with a new partner, ask them is they have any STI or encourage them to go for a STI testing if they are unsure. Open and honest communication is key to protecting yourself and your partner.
- If you have a partner who is infected with herpes and is experiencing an active outbreak, avoid kissing (in the case of cold sores) or any sexual contact (for genital herpes) during this period (wait at least a week after all herpes sores have healed).
- Be careful about sharing your sex toys and all the sex toys must be washed and disinfected after every use.