What is Herpes?

Herpes is a common and usually mild infection caused by a virus (herpes simplex virus). there are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV1 and HSV2. Both types cause similar symptoms, however, type 1 is usually found on the mouth (cold sores, or ‘oral herpes’) and type 2 is usually found on the genitals. it is possible for either virus to infect either location. Because both types prefer to infect mucous membranes (thin, moist, pink skin), it is unusual to develop symptoms in other areas.

How Does a Person Get Herpes?

Herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Someone is most likely to pass the virus to a partner during the prodrome period (right before an outbreak) or during an outbreak (when they have a rash and/or sore). However, herpes can also be spread when the infected person has no symptoms.

  • If you have a cold sore and give someone a kiss, they might get oral herpes.
  • If you have a genital sore and have vaginal or anal sex or genital-to-genital rubbing, your partner may get genital herpes.
  • If you have a sore on your mouth and perform oral sex, your partner may get genital herpes.

What are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?

When someone has symptoms, it is called an outbreak. The signs of a herpes outbreak may include:

  • Sores or blisters in the genital area including the penis, vagina, upper thigh, vulva and/or testicles
  • Tingling, itching or burning in the genital area

The very first outbreak may be more severe, and may include:

  • Shooting pains
  • Swollen glands in the groin

Some people my experience symptoms before an outbreak. This is called the prodrome period. Symptoms may include the tingling, itching and/or burning sensation.

When Do Symptoms Appear?

Within a few days, a person may show symptoms, or it may take weeks, months or years. Herpes outbreaks may happen as often as monthly or as rarely as once in a lifetime. After the first outbreak, about one-third to one-half of all infected people never have another outbreak. Other people have frequent outbreaks. Herpes is very common: about 20% of adults in the U.S. have HSV-2. Many people infected with herpes don’t know they have it.

How is Herpes Treated?

There is no cure for herpes. However, there are some things which can help make outbreaks shorter, less painful and less often.

  • Prescription medication can be taken during the prodrome or the beginning of an outbreak to help sores heal faster and be less painful.
  • Keeping the sores clean and dry helps them heal more quickly.
  • Putting pure aloe vera on the sores reduces pain and discomfort for some people.
  • If someone has frequent outbreaks, daily medication may help to suppress the virus and reduce the number of outbreaks.