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Facts About...

Herpes Simplex Virus


What is it?

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a common virus that people can be exposed to. There are two types of HSV viruses. HSV-1 is the oral herpes virus which is commonly known as “cold sores”. HSV-2 is a virus that is typically found in the genital area and is commonly known as “genital herpes”.

HSV virus can cause painful blisters on the mouth, genital area, anal area, buttocks, and thighs. Symptoms appear 2 to 21 days after first contact with the virus. This is known as the primary outbreak. Once you have an HSV virus, you will carry it for a lifetime. Other outbreaks of HSV may occur in the same area where the first symptoms were seen. There is no way to know how severe or how often outbreaks will occur.

How is it spread?

HSV is spread through direct skin to skin contact. The virus can be there even when there are no symptoms. HSV-1 is passed from one person to another with mouth to mouth contact. It can also be spread to the genital area through oral sex. HSV-2 is passed from one person to another with genital to genital, genital to anal, and genital to oral contact. It is uncommon for HSV-2 to be found on the mouth.

What do I look for?

A person can have HSV and not know it. Many people have symptoms of HSV but do not realize they are caused by HSV. If you have symptoms, you will most likely feel itching or tingling on your skin. You may have painful sores that can take 2 to 3 weeks to heal. You may experience other symptoms such as; fever, joint pain, flu-like signs, painful urination, and swollen and tender lymph nodes in the groin area.

New blisters may develop for up to 5 to 7 days after the first group appears. Also they often come back weeks to months later since the virus remains for life. When blisters do come back, they are usually less painful and heal faster. They may develop in the same area as before, or in another area. When the sores are present, there is an increased risk of being infected with other STIs. People with recurrent infection have mild symptoms before blisters develop. These symptoms may include: itching, tingling, or pain in the area

How is it treated?

There is no cure for HSV. There are medications that can lessen the symptoms of an outbreak of HSV. These medications work best when started as soon as possible after the outbreak begins. You can talk with your health care provider about treatment options.

To help symptoms you can; soak in a warm bath with salty water, wear cotton underwear when symptoms present, and keep sores clean and dry. It is important to wash your hands well after touching the area where the sore(s) are located to prevent the spread of the virus to other parts of the body.

How can I protect myself?

The use of barrier methods such as condoms or dental dams can help to prevent contact with the HSV virus. If you have HSV, it is important to talk with your partner(s) about HSV and let them know of their risks of exposure to the virus.

Blood tests are not routinely done but in some cases, such as pregnancy, it is important to know. If a woman has a history of symptoms but was never seen or diagnosed when the symptoms occurred she may need blood testing. A woman can pass HSV to her baby during delivery. If you are pregnant, it is important to let your health care provider know if you have HSV-2 (genital herpes).

Having a positive herpes test does not tell you how long you have had the virus, which partner gave you the virus, or where the virus outbreak will occur.

To help prevent outbreaks:

  • Get enough rest and exercise
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Take care of your body
  • Avoid or reduce stress
  • Return for check-up visits as your doctor asks
  • Use condoms with lubricant to lower the chance of exposure to future infection.

November 14, 2016