Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, and it’s one of the few that has no cure. For this reason, all sexually active adults need to be aware of the STI facts, signs, symptoms and treatments for herpes.
Facts and figures
The CDC reports that genital herpes affects approximately 16.2 percent of Americans between the ages of 14 and 49. That averages out to about one in every six people, if you consider both sexes together. Though this illness can occur in both men and women, it is more common among females. While one in nine American men has herpes, that number is closer to one in five for women.
What it is and how it’s spread
Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which comes in two types – HSV-1 and HSV-2. The Mayo Clinic explains that HSV-1 is typically found around the mouth, while HSV-2 ordinarily infects the genitals.
Herpes is transmitted through sexual contact – anal, vaginal or oral. It’s important to understand that an individual with HSV-1 can pass his or her illness onto their partner through oral sex, the CDC reports.
Symptoms and diagnosis
One of the reasons that herpes is so common is because it often carries mild symptoms, or none at all. Some clinical signs of the illness can also be mistaken for other skin conditions. Unfortunately, this means many infected people are not aware they carry the disease, and are thus more likely to pass their illness on to a partner.
If you do develop symptoms, you may notice small blisters on the genitals, mouth, lips or rectum. After a while, these blisters will break and leave behind painful sores, which can take up to four weeks to heal. Exhibiting such sores is known as an “outbreak,” and an infected individual’s first outbreak may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms.
Once you are infected with herpes, it lies dormant in your system, and outbreaks may occur over time. However, the first outbreak is typically the most severe, and most patients find that the number of outbreaks they experience decreases over a period of years.
Even individuals who are not going through an outbreak can pass this illness on to their partner.
While there is no cure for herpes, you can get treatment to reduce the severity of the illness. If you’re concerned that you have been infected, visit a sexual health clinic or your personal physician. A medical professional can examine or take a sample of any sores to give you a diagnosis, or you may be able to take a blood test between outbreaks. If you receive a positive diagnosis, the next step is to discuss what treatment options are available. As with many STIs, condoms are an effective form of prevention. Because herpes can be transmitted orally, it may be best to wear flavored condoms when performing or receiving oral sex.