Though it’s often spoken about in hushed tones, the herpes virus is actually quite common. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as one in six people between the ages of 14 and 49 have the virus. Given its prevalence, it’s important to understand what the herpes virus is and what its symptoms are. How it’s transmitted, and what you can do if you have it.
What is Herpes?
Herpes is a virus that can cause sores in your mouth or genitals. The two most common types are oral herpes (HSV-1) and genital herpes (HSV-2). Both viruses are highly contagious and can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.
Oral herpes is usually caused by HSV-1 and is often referred to as “cold sores.” This type of virus can be spread through kissing or sharing cups, straws, or utensils with someone who has HSV-1. It can also be transmitted through saliva, so it’s important not to share lip balm, toothbrushes, or anything else that might come into contact with your mouth.
Genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2 and is spread through sexual contact with someone who has the virus. This includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has HSV-2.
What are the symptoms of herpes?
The most common symptom of both HSV-1 and HSV-2 is a sore in your mouth or genitals. These sores are usually accompanied by itching, tingling, or burning. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. In some cases, people with HSV never develop any symptoms at all.
If you do develop symptoms, they typically appear 2 to 12 days after exposure to the virus. For people with HSV-1, these initial symptoms are usually followed by recurrent episodes of cold sores throughout their lives. For people with HSV-2, there may be several weeks or months between the initial infection and recurrences. However, both viruses can remain inactive in your body for long periods without causing any symptoms.
Other symptoms of oral herpes include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Pain when swallowing
- Redness and swelling of the gums
- Ulcers on the tongue or inside of the cheek.
The first outbreak of oral herpes usually occurs within 2 to 12 days after coming into contact with the virus. For some people, however, the first outbreak may not occur for months or even years after exposure. The recurrent outbreak of oral herpes is much less severe than the initial infection and generally lasts only a few days.
Other symptoms of genital herpes include:
- Burning or pain during urination
- Itching or tingling sensations in the genital area
- Vaginal discharge (in women)
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin area
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and muscle aches
Learn More: How to Treat Herpes Naturally
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do symptoms of herpes take to show?
Symptoms of herpes typically appear 2 to 12 days after exposure to the virus. For some people, there may be no symptoms at all, or they may be so mild that they go unnoticed. This is why it’s important for people who think they may have been exposed to get tested even if they don’t have any symptoms.
Does everyone who has herpes have symptoms?
No, not everyone who has herpes will have symptoms. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 20% of people who have HSV-2 will experience any outbreaks at all. Even when people do have outbreaks, they are often mild and can be easily managed with over-the-counter medication or home remedies.
Can I get rid of herpes?
There is no cure for herpes. But there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms for those who experience outbreaks. Antiviral medications can be prescribed by a doctor which can help to shorten the duration of an outbreak as well as reduce the frequency with which they occur. In addition, there are home remedies that can help soothe the symptoms of an outbreak, such as taking a warm bath or applying a topical cream or ointment.
How do you prevent genital herpes?
The best way to prevent genital herpes is by using condoms or dental dams every time you engage in sexual activity – this includes vaginal, anal, oral sex, or any other type of sexual contact where skin-to-skin contact could occur. In addition, it’s important to avoid sharing towels or other personal items with someone who has an active outbreak.
Will my partner get herpes if I have it?
If you have HSV-2 and engage in sexual activity with someone who does not have HSV-2, then they can become infected with the virus. However, some steps can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission, like using condoms or taking antiviral medication, which can help suppress outbreaks altogether.
Can I still have children if I have herpes?
Yes! If you have HSV-2 and are considering starting a family, speak with your doctor about your options, as there are precautionary measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission to your partner during pregnancy or childbirth. With proper care and treatment, you can still live a happy and healthy life despite having herpes!
While it’s not pleasant to think about, the herpes virus is something that you should be aware of—particularly if you’re sexually active. Though there’s no cure for the virus, there are treatments available that can help ease symptoms and prevent outbreaks. If you think you may have been exposed to the herpes virus—or if you develop any unusual sores on your mouth or genitals—be sure to see a healthcare provider right away for diagnosis and treatment.