Herpes is an incredibly common sexually transmitted infection in Australia, with more than 1 in 10 Aussies carrying the virus responsible for it.
It has no cure, so once you get it you’ve got it for life.
Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection, which shows itself as blisters or sores on the genitals and around the mouth.
Herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus that encompasses both HSV Type I, which more commonly causes sores on the mouth, and HSV Type II, which more commonly causes sores on the genitals. However, both types can affect either the mouth or genital area, or both.
How Do You Actually Get Herpes?
Genital herpes is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has herpes, often by coming into contact with infected skin during sex. Cold sores present in the mouth that are linked to herpes are often spread to and from the genitals during oral sex.
Herpes is infectious from the first signs of the sores on the skin, until the scabs have disappeared. However, you can pass on herpes to someone when you don’t have any visible blisters or sores, a situation that is most common in the first two years of a herpes infection. You cannot catch or pass along herpes unless you have skin-to-skin contact with an infected area.
Signs And Symptoms
When a person is first infected with herpes they might not have any symptoms at all, including no sores. However, the first time that a person presents with the sores, which are the main symptom of herpes, they are generally at their worst. People often feel a sense of general unwellness, similar to the flue, just before the sores appear. Unlike genital warts, herpes sores are blisters, which can burst and become sores, and then scabs, about one or two weeks after they appear.
For women, these blisters appear around the vagina, the urethra, the cervix, the anus, or between the vagina and the anus. In men, the blisters appear on the penis and foreskin, the urethra, the anus, the scrotum, or the area between the penis and the anus. In both cases, it can be painful to urinate if the urine touches the sores. In very rare cases, herpes can also show up on the buttocks, lower back and surrounding areas, as well as on the hands, breasts, back and fingers. Basically, it can show up anywhere that has touched an infected area. People should also be aware that herpes doesn’t always show up as blisters. Sometimes it’s a small rash, cracked skin, or other skin issue on the genitals.
A few weeks after they first appear, herpes sores will heal. However, that doesn’t mean the virus has left your body. It never will. People infected with herpes will likely have more outbreaks in the future, known by medical professionals as “recurrent episodes”.
Type I and Type II
HSV-1: This is the cause of oral cold sores, and is spread to the genitals when someone with the cold sore visa performs oral sex on someone who has not been infected. Initially, the HSV-1 strain of the virus is much more painful, but over time it tends to recur less and isn’t passed on to other partners as easily.
HSV-2: This type of herpes is known for its frequent, symptom-heavy recurrences and high risk of transmitting the infection to sexual partners. Most people with genital HSV-2 will require medically-prescribed treatment for this strain either for symptom relief or to control recurrences.
Herpes is generally treated with antiviral medications, to manage symptoms only. These are effective, and are safe even when taken for extended periods. Initial HSV infections are usually treated for as long as 14 days, while recurrences are generally treated with shorter courses of the antiviral. Remember, this does not cure herpes, only manages the symptoms.
Herpes and Pregnancy
If you happen to have herpes and are also pregnant, there are some things you need to know. For those infected with genital herpes, the concern that doctors have is that it will be passed on to your baby during delivery. Newborn herpes is quite rare, but can be devastating.
Herpes can be transmitted to your child if you’re contagious (sometimes called ’shedding virus’) during that time. It can also be transmitted if you get herpes for the first time late in your pregnancy. If the expectant mother is having an outbreak, which would include any visible sores or other symptoms, doctors usually recommend a caesarean section. Women with herpes can prevent this by taking antiviral medication from the 36th week of their pregnancy, providing their doctor agrees.
How to Prevent Herpes
Herpes can absolutely be prevented with just a few simple things.
First, talk openly with your partner about your sexual history, and whether or not either of you may have contracted herpes. People in committed relationships should have no issue with getting a sexual health check prior to having sex, just to ensure both parties are clean.
Second, never have sex when there are any signs of sores on either person’s genitals or mouth. This includes avoiding oral sex when someone has a cold sore on their mouth.
Third, use a condom or a water-based lubricant, or a dental dam, to further reduce your risk. Remember, these items only protect the area of skin that is covered by the condom or dental dam, but they also protect against other STIs.
One partner having herpes doesn’t mean you can never have sex, but it does mean that precautions need to be taken to stop the spread of the infection to others. If you have a number of partners, you should get sexual health tests on a regular basis to make sure you haven’t contracted herpes or another STI.
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention – we have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice – https://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/babies/important-hotlines-websites/
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.