Herpes simplex virus (HSV), more commonly known as herpes, is a common virus that results in sores on the genitals and/or mouth. This infection is very common, with figures from the World Health Organization estimating that around 67% of the under 50 population has oral or genital HSV-1 and around 13% have HSV-2. Therefore, we can estimate that upwards of 80% of the global population has some form of herpes virus.
SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS
The most prevalent symptoms of herpes are sores on the genitals or the mouth. Other symptoms may include a burning sensation when going to the toilet, itching, pain around the genitals, swollen glands, fever, chills, and headache. However, in many instances, herpes can be asymptomatic for up to a few years before an outbreak occurs. But what does an outbreak of herpes mean? An outbreak usually lasts for two to four weeks and is the term used to describe the emergence of a group of itchy or painful blisters around the genital region, with these eventually turning into sores.
HOW IS HERPES SPREAD?
Herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact, making it a very common infection. This contact may occur during oral, anal, and vaginal sex or even just kissing someone who has oral herpes. It is, however, important to note that you do not always have to have sex to get herpes: many people with oral herpes contracted the virus when they were kids, presenting as cold sores on and around the mouth. Outside of the body, the herpes virus does not survive for very long. Therefore, you cannot contract herpes from hugging, holding hands, coughing, or sitting on toilet seats.
The herpes virus is mainly contagious when there are open sores, as the herpes blisters will release fluid that can easily spread the virus. Nonetheless, the virus can also ‘shed’ and be passed on to others when there are no sores. This adds to the sneaky nature of the herpes virus as it can live in the body for many years without causing symptoms, making it very hard for someone to know if they have it and, if so, when they contracted it.
At present, there is no cure for the herpes virus, but there are many different ways that you can manage an outbreak and help to ease the pain. This includes:
- Taking a warm bath
- Keeping the genital area dry
- Wearing soft, loose clothes
- Placing an ice pack on any sores
- Taking pain relief, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
Even if you present with symptoms, like all other sexually transmitted infections, the only way to confirm that you have herpes is to get tested. If you have sores around the genital area that you are concerned about, it is important to see a healthcare professional as soon as possible. STD testing is an important and regular part of taking care of your health and is quick and typically painless.