Sexual health questions: Herpes

What is Herpes?
Herpes is a very common and highly infectious disease that is caused by two closely related viruses: Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

  • HSV-1 infections, or oral Herpes, are more common than those caused by HSV-2 and result in the formation of fever blisters or cold sores, especially around the mouth and lips.

  • HSV-2 infections, or genital Herpes, result in the formation of sores, usually around the genitals or rectum. Although HSV-2 infection may be caught around the mouth through oral sex, it is more commonly found below the waist.

How can I catch Herpes?
Herpes can be transmitted through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal contact with an infected individual. This contact can be sexual or non-sexual. HSV-1 is often spread by kissing, which is why it is very common. You are at a higher risk of catching either one of the two viruses when the person you come into contact with (sexually or non-sexually) has blisters or sores than it is when there are no visible symptoms. You cannot get Herpes from sharing objects such as towels, cutlery or cups because the virus dies very quickly when it is away from the skin.

What are the symptoms and signs of Herpes?
Oral and genital Herpes infections often have no symptoms or mild symptoms that can either go unnoticed or be mistaken for other types of bacterial or fungal infections, in both men and women. Occasionally, the virus may be present with no visible signs and can still be passed on, by a process called ‘asymptomatic viral shedding’.

Symptoms of oral Herpes include painful blisters or open sores (ulcers) in or around the mouth, preceded by a tingling, itching or burning sensation around the mouth. Symptoms of genital Herpes include having one or more genital or anal blisters or open sores (ulcers), preceded by fever, body aches and swollen lymph nodes when contracting the virus for the first time. The first episode or outbreak is usually the most severe with later outbreaks (recurrence) becoming milder and less frequent with time.

Recurrent symptoms are almost always on visible skin. Sores inside the vagina or anus are usually only present as part of a primary infection and are unlikely to accompany a recurrence.

DID YOU KNOW? … 1 in 3 people with Herpes will have symptoms, whilst 2 in 3 will only have mild symptoms or none at all. Click here to see the full article.

How can Herpes be tested/checked?
Tocolo has three ways of testing for the Herpes virus:

  • Blood Test – if you have no symptoms
  • Urine Test – if you currently have symptoms
  • Swab Test – if you have a blister or other lesion for swabbing to see if it is caused by HSV.

You can choose your test method: urine or a swab if you have symptoms, and blood if you do not. Results are available within 2−5 working days from us receiving your sample depending on which sample is taken. The test will tell you whether you have HSV-1, HSV-2, both types or neither.

Tocolo also provides instant Herpes testing. With this exclusive, popular Herpes testing option, you will receive your results from 10 minutes after sample collection.

What are the risks associated with Herpes?
If you have symptoms for Herpes, the use of condoms might not protect your sexual partner from getting the virus from your infected areas that are not covered by the condom. Therefore, it is advised to abstain from sex if you have symptoms.

Neonatal Herpes can occur in rare cases (1 in 10,000 births worldwide) and might lead to lasting neurologic disability or even death of the infant. Pregnant women who get their first viral infection during late pregnancy are at a higher risk of acquiring the disease than those infected prior to pregnancy.

The symptoms and pains associated with recurrence of Herpes might lead to psychological distress, which could negatively affect the quality of life and sexual relationships of infected individuals.

If Herpes is left untreated, there is an increased risk of getting other sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

What if I test positive for Herpes?
Since the virus stays in the nerves surrounding the infected area permanently, there is no cure to eliminate the virus from the body. However, there are many treatments which are very effective at reducing both the severity and frequency of any outbreaks.

Creams and medications are available to manage the symptoms and keep outbreaks under control. If you test positive for Herpes, Tocolo will be able to prescribe the right treatment for you. You are most likely to pass the virus on when you have symptoms, so you should abstain or practice safe sex with a condom during this time.