Working in a STD clinic, it has come to my attention that many women (and guys!) are confused about the Herpes virus. Many of my patients don’t really know anything besides it’s an STD and they don’t want it. And while that’s an ok start (hey, it’s better than nothing), there are a few essential things you should have in your knowledge base.
I will discuss the 2 major stains of the virus that most people are concerned about, although there are currently 8 strains of the virus that can affect humans. Herpes is very contagious and often results in a life-long infection. So here’s the scary and maybe comforting part for some of you, a great deal of Americans are infected with the virus, but aren’t aware of it. Yikes!
There is NO CURE for herpes, but luckily there is medicine available to help alleviate symptoms and make it less likely that you will spread herpes to your partner.
So here’s a quick guide to Herpes.
HSV 1 – Herpes Simplex Virus 1
This strain of the virus is most commonly spread from an infected person to the next through oral contact. It is an infection that causes small, painful, fluid-filled blisters or sores on the lips, mouth, and/or gums. You may have heard of them referred to as fever blisters or cold sores. Recurrent outbreaks can affect the mouth or other parts of the face.
HSV 2- Herpes Simplex 2
This is the strain that everyone is afraid of contracting. Having Herpes isn’t a walk in the park or something joyful, no matter what those Valtrex commercials portray. I don’t know of anyone running on the beach or laughing uncontrollably because they have genital herpes. 😦 HSV-2 is more commonly known as genital herpes because outbreaks generally occur in the genital area (penis and vagina), the butt, or thighs. An outbreak is usually characterized by those painful blisters and sores similar to the ones associated with HSV-1. Herpes is spread through sexual activity (vagina, penis, anus, mouth, etc.) and skin to skin contact.
Basically, the virus enters the body through skin or mucus membranes (dry humping, kissing, penetration, etc.). Days later, one may notice painful fluid-filled blisters forming. That oozing fluid from the blister is actually highly contagious and contains the herpes virus. The blisters will eventually become an ulcer. Once the initial outbreak has occurred, the virus then makes itself comfortable and lies dormant or “goes to sleep” in the nerves near the spine. There are certain triggers that may reactivate the virus and “wake it up” Those triggers include stress, smoking (yet another GREAT reason to quit), or changes in weather. Once reactivated, herpes makes its way along the nerve highway and back to the skin to cause an unsightly outbreak of painful blisters.
Some people can tell when they’re going to have an outbreak by a tingling sensation, pain or itching in the area up to 10 days before visible symptoms appear.
It’s always a good idea to abstain from sex or only engage in sexual activities with someone who isn’t infected. But realistically, always use latex condoms wit every sexual encounter and activity and practice monogamy.
Also, have an open and honest discussion with your healthcare provider to discuss your risks and get tested for STDs/STIs. Always know your status.
Until next time, remember to keep a healthy demeanor, both inside and out.