Herpes is a very common skin disease. It's caused by a virus and can affect your mouth (oral) and/or the area around the penis or vagina (genital), upper thighs or buttocks. Most of the time, it is hard to notice herpes, so most people don't know they have it. Cold sores and fever blisters are an example of herpes in your mouth.
How do I get herpes?
Herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. You can get herpes from touching someone else's skin that has herpes, including:
- Kissing someone with a cold sore
- Oral, anal and vaginal sex
- Touching any area infected with herpes
You can get herpes even if you can't see it. Genital herpes can be transmitted sexually both when a person has noticiable symptoms and when they don't.
What does herpes do to my body?
Most people don't know they have herpes. You can find out that you have herpes a few days or as late as years after getting it. Herpes usually affects the mouth and the area around the penis or vagina, buttocks or upper thighs. Some signs of herpes are:
- Blisters, bumps, or pimples on the infected area that crust over
- Pain while peeing
Herpes sometimes looks like bug bites, rash, jock itch, zipper burn, razor burn, irritation from sex, or yeast infection. It is easy to confuse symptoms of herpes with these types of symptoms. The only way to know if you have herpes is to get tested.
Is there a cure for herpes?
No, herpes can't be cured. Once the virus enters your body, you can't get rid of it. But there are to treat herpes that can lower the number of herpes outbreaks you have. Herpes is usually not harmful, but it can make it easier for you to receive HIV if you're exposed. ASHA's website has more information about herpes treatment.
How do I find out if I have herpes?
If you have symptoms that you think might be herpes, you should go see a healthcare provider no later than 48 hours after noticing the symptom. If you don't have symptoms, you can ask for a "herpes type-specific IgG " blood test.
How can I reduce my risk of getting herpes?
There are many ways to reduce your risk. The best way to avoid herpes or any STI is to not have sex. And since herpes is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, you can contract herpes even if you don't have intercourse.
You can protect yourself by using a latex condom every time you have sex. Condoms don't provide complete protection against herpes, but they can help. Since herpes can be transmitted during oral sex, using condoms or a dental dam during oral sex can also help reduce your risk. Learn more about reducing your risk for STIs.