Herpes

Herpes is a very common sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by one of 2 different viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

Once herpes has been contracted, it remains in the body for life.

Contrary to popular belief, you can contract HSV-1 and HSV-2 in either the oral area or the genital area (or both). While HSV-1 is more often found in the oral area, it can be contracted genitally as well and, in the same vein, HSV-2 is primarily found in the genital area, but can be contracted orally.

More than 50% of American adults have oral herpes and about 16% have genital herpes.

When someone has an outbreak of sores, they are most contagious and therefore at highest risk of transmitting the virus. However, even when someone does not have any symptoms, it is still possible to pass the virus.

Symptoms

When a person has oral herpes (also known as cold sores), herpes sores show up in the oral area, on lips or around the mouth. These sores may also show up inside the mouth, but this usually only happens the first time oral herpes symptoms appear. Symptoms may last a few weeks and go away. They may return in weeks, months, or years.

The most common genital herpes symptom is a cluster of blistery sores, which can take a week or more to clear up. During this time, it is easier to transmit the infection to others, so skin-to-skin contact should be avoided. The first time one has a genital herpes outbreak, the sores generally appear within 2 to 20 days after infection. Because the virus stays in the body, sores may come back again at any time.

Prevention

  • When you feel the warning signs of an outbreak, refrain from sexual contact. Warning signs may include a burning, itching, or tingling feeling. Do not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex — even with a condom. Wait until seven days after the sore heals.
  • Use condoms between outbreaks to reduce the risk of transmission.
  • Use herpes treatments. The risk of transmission can be greatly reduced if the partner with herpes takes a small daily dose of anti-herpes medication.

Treatment

There are medications that can help speed up the healing of sores and prevent them from returning. These medications often have names that end in -ciclovir. When taken on a daily basis, these medicines can decrease recurrence frequency to about once per year. And if a recurrence does occur, it is generally milder and lasts for a shorter time. Recent studies show that regular use of these medicines can cut down on the chance of contracting herpes during the time when sores are not present (this is called “asymptomatic viral shedding”).

Commonly Asked Questions

  • Q: Can I get herpes twice?
    • A: Yes! Because there are 2 strains, you could get infected with one or both (HSV-1 and HSV-2).
  • Q: Can I get herpes from: a toilet seat, a hot tub, or wearing the clothing of someone who has it?
    • A: It is not likely.The chance of contracting herpes without having directly touched the skin of someone with herpes is incredibly small. The herpes virus has to enter the body of another person through a broken area of the skin or a mucous membrane.If a person with a herpes sore were to sit on a toilet seat that is used by others, they may want to consider using alcohol or soap and water to clean it afterward. However, once exposed to air, the herpes virus does not survive for more than about ten seconds.

      Chlorine kills the virus. So the chance of contracting herpes from a hot tub is incredibly unlikely.

      Clothing detergent kills the virus. Once exposed to air, the herpes virus does not survive for more than about ten seconds. Although it can survive slightly longer in warm, damp conditions, your chances of getting herpes from clothing is very, very low.