Herpes is a common viral infection that can be transmitted through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, and through other sexual activities that involve direct skin-to-skin contact.
Answers to some common questions about herpes:
Herpes is a very common infection caused by two different but closely related viruses. Both are easy to catch. They remain in the body for life and can produce symptoms that come and go.
Both forms of herpes can infect the mouth, genitals, or both. When the infection is on or near the mouth, it's called oral herpes. When a herpes infection is on or near the sex organs, it is called genital herpes.
Up to 8 out of 10 American adults have oral herpes and about 1 out of 4 American adults have genital herpes. Millions of people do not know they have herpes because they never had, or noticed, any symptoms.
Symptoms include painful sores on the genitals, body aches, a tingling sensation, and swollen glands, but not everyone who has herpes develops symptoms. In addition to painful sores, during the first herpes outbreak symptoms may also include swollen, tender glands in the pelvic area, throat, and underarms; fever; chills; headache; a general run-down feeling; or an achy, flu-like feeling.
The first herpes sores usually heal in about two to four weeks, but the virus stays in the body. Later, herpes can flare up and cause sores again.
Yes, there is treatment for herpes symptoms, but there is no cure. If you have herpes, you can take certain medications to help manage the infection. Herpes treatments are usually very effective in speeding the healing of sores and preventing them from returning frequently.
In order to be correctly diagnosed, you should see an experienced health provider, who may send a sample from your sores to a lab. You may have to wait several days to get the test results. If the test is positive, your health care provider may start treatment with an antiviral medication like Valtrex or Zovirax.
Herpes is spread by touching, kissing, and sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It can be passed from one partner to another and from one part of the body to another.
Brief skin-to-skin contact is all that's needed to pass the virus. Because herpes may cause no symptoms for years, sometimes it is very difficult to know who passed it to whom. The lining of the mouth, vagina, penis, anus, and eyes can become infected with herpes easily. Skin can be infected if it is cut, chafed, or burned, or is covered with a rash or other sores.