How Do You Know If You Have Herpes?

Knowing whether or not you have herpes can be difficult, as signs and symptoms of the herpes simplex virus aren’t always easy to detect. In fact, as much as 90 percent of the population living with herpes does not know they are infected with the virus. This lack of awareness is the leading reason why herpes is transmitted to 1 in every 6 sexually active Americans.

Uncertainty over herpes stems from the fact that symptoms vary from person to person. Some people may experience frequent, severe and obvious flare–ups, while others may experience very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. What’s more, these mild symptoms are often mistaken for other, less serious, conditions and therefore are not properly diagnosed and treated. If a person does have symptoms, they will likely experience the following:

Signs and Symptoms of Herpes

Oral herpes (HSV–1)

  • Flu–like symptoms
  • Swollen lymph nodes in neck
  • Burning or itching sensation on or around mouth
  • Sores/blisters on lips or around mouth lasting 7-10 days
  • Scabbing of healing sores

Genital Herpes (HSV–2)

  • Itching or burning on or around genitals before blisters appear
  • Small red bumps, blisters or sores on or around the penis, vagina, anus, buttocks and/or inner thighs
  • Ulcers that are painful, fluid-filled and ooze/puss
  • Painful urination for women with internal vaginal sores
  • Scabbing of healing ulcers that form a crust

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical help right away. If you are not experiencing any symptoms, but have reason to believe you may be infected with herpes, you should speak to your doctor about your concerns.

How To Be Sure About Herpes

The only way to be sure you do or not have herpes is to get tested for the virus. Sometimes one test is not sufficient. For those who are not experiencing any symptoms but know they have come into contact with the virus, it is a good idea to get tested twice if the first test comes back negative. In many cases, an STD test is administered too soon during what is called the “window period,” meaning the time–frame when the virus is living in the body but is not yet detectable by a test. A person is still highly contagious during this time and should refrain from any sexual contact until their second test has come back negative for infection.

Testing Positive For Herpes

If you have been tested for herpes and your results come back positive for infection, your doctor will likely discuss with you the following:

  • Treatment options for flare-ups
  • What you can expect for your future
  • Risks involved during sexual contact with others
  • Safety precautions for the prevention of spreading

Herpes is not curable, but it is manageable with antiviral medications. These medications can also reduce the risk of transmission. Avoid sexual contact during times of an outbreak, as a person is most contagious when sores are present.

Herpes Prevention

Abstinence from kissing and vaginal, anal and oral sex is the only surefire way to prevent the transmission of the herpes virus. If you are not abstinent, you can consider a monogamous sexual relationship with an STD–free partner. If you have multiple sexual partners, then routine STD screenings, every 3 to 6 months, should become a normal and frequent part of your sex life.

While condoms are always recommended, they are not a foolproof method for preventing the spread of infection. Skin to skin contact is all it takes for the herpes virus to transmit. Avoid kissing and sexual intercourse with someone who has visible signs of infection such as bumps, sores, blisters or scabs. A person is far more contagious during times of breakouts versus times of remission.

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