STD/STI: Herpes Simplex (1 and 2)

It sometimes seems like no STD/STI causes as much upset as herpes. People I speak with never worry about getting chlamydia, HPV or granuloma, but the minute STD/STIs come up, they start on herpes.

Folks, get over it. While not entirely benign, herpes is the closest thing you can get to an STD/STI version of acne. Annoying, epidemic, and the next best thing to untreatable, but rarely a real problem.

That said, there are some complications associated with herpes, and as always, you should avoid contact with open sores.

Transmission: Herpes is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area. Herpes 1 usually infects the mouth and herpes 2 usually infects the genital region, but they can both infect either area, and more rarely other parts of the body. Infection is most likely to be transmitted during an outbreak, but can be transmitted at other times.

Prevention: Condoms can reduce the chance of contracting herpes, but since the infection can settle outside the area covered by condoms, they are not perfect protection. Female condoms provide better protection than male condoms, because they cover a wider area. Don’t have sex during an outbreak, or any other time one of you or one or your partners has open sores.

Symptoms: Most people have no symptoms of herpes. People who do experience symptoms will develop sores that break open and heal over a period of weeks. These outbreaks happen with decreasing frequency over time.

Treatment: Antiviral medication can reduce the frequency of outbreaks and the risk of transmission. There is no cure.

Diagnosis: A test during outbreaks can confirm the presence of herpes, however tests done when there is no outbreak may return a false-negative – which means a person may test negative for infection even though they are infected. The CDC estimates that 1 in 6 people in the US have herpes 2, and most of them are unaware of it.

Complications: Herpes sores can be spread to other parts of the body by touching an open sore and then an uninfected region. This can be particularly problematic in areas such as the eyes which are highly sensitive. Always wash hands well after touching open sores. People who are infected with herpes are at higher risk of contracting HIV and other STD/STIs that can be transmitted through blood. This is because the open sores create an avenue for the virus to infect the body. People who have herpes and are not in the middle of an outbreak are not at higher risk. Again, don’t have sex or physical contact when you have open sores. Herpes 2 may create risks for a pregnant mother, if you have been diagnosed or have an outbreak, speak with your ob-gyn. It is important to avoid outbreaks during pregnancy and labor, if at all possible. People with suppressed immune systems may have additional problems caused by herpes.

Back to the Long List of STD/STIs.