Herpes 101: The Incurable STD and You

One of the incurable sexually transmitted diseases, the herpes simplex virus (HSV) affects 3.7 billion people around the world. 

Herpes is caused by two viruses, HSV-1 and HSV2. HSV-1 typically only leads to oral herpes, however it can spread to your genitals. Herpes can cause cold sores, fever blisters on or around the mouth. 

If you are sexually active, herpes can be spread through all forms of intercourse, including oral and anal. You can be infected by coming into contact with a herpes sore, saliva, genital secretions or infected skin.

A sore in your mouth does not mean you have herpes. Cold sores are commonly mistaken for canker sores. Canker sores only form on the inside of your mouth and are small and white or yellow, like a blister. They are not caused by the herpes virus. 

If you’re unsure if you have the disease, SelfCollect’s at-home testing kit can help put your mind at ease. Tests are sent through the mail in a discreet, prepaid package to a medical laboratory. Results are usually available within a few business days. 

Will You Know If You Have Herpes?

Herpes is not as easily recognizable as you may think. While it can cause sores, many people experience mild symptoms, if any at all. When you do notice an abnormality, it is often mistaken for an ingrown hair, a pimple, or another common skin condition. 

Herpes usually appears as blisters on or around your genitals, anus or mouth. These blisters can break and leave painful sores that take a week or longer to heal. When you’re experiencing these sores, you’re having an “outbreak.” 

Herpes Treatment

Even though there is no cure, treatment is important. Gential herpes sores are painful and can lead to severe health problems in people with suppressed immune systems. 

Herpes is highly contagious. Do not touch the sores during an outbreak. If you touch an outbreak, you are at immediate risk for spreading the sores to your hands or other parts of your body. Practicing consistent and thorough hygiene methods is a must. Medications can prevent or shorten outbreaks and reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to your partner. 

Pregnant with Herpes

If you’re pregnant, herpes can be fatal to your unborn child. 

The Center for Disease Contorl (CDC) reports there is some research that suggests genital herpes infections may lead to miscarriage, or lead to preterm births. 

The virus can be passed on to your developing fetus or through childbirth. Talk with your doctor and let them know you have herpes. Medical professionals can offer you anti-herpes medicine toward the end of your pregnancy to reduce the risk of an outbreak during delivery. 

If you have an outbreak during delivery, many doctors will choose to perform a C-section to avoid exposing your newborn to the open sores. 

Herpes: DNA Testing vs. Blood Testing

The most important step to prevent herpes is for you and your partner(s) to get tested before you engage in sexual intercourse. There are two ways to test for herpes: blood tests and DNA tests. Both are reliable, though they may not give you the same results. Here’s why.

The American Sexual Health Association explains that blood tests are used to detect herpes antibodies, not an active virus. An antibody is the body’s natural defense against infections, such as herpes. Therefore, if you have antibodies to herpes, you have been exposed to the infection.

Blood tests can be highly unreliable. Some blood tests are prone to give false positive results for people who do not have herpes symptoms. About 50% of tests are inaccurate, according to USPSTF.

A negative blood test usually means you do not have the virus, however, the test may have been done too early to detect antibodies. ASHA reported that half of infected individuals will have detectable antibodies after three weeks and about 70% will have detectable antibodies by six weeks. After six months, your body will have ample herpes antibodies to be detected through a blood test. 

DNA tests are different and more accurate. They are swabs taken in potentially infected areas and are highly accurate in detecting an active virus. A positive test indicates the virus is currently active, or commonly referred to as an outbreak. DNA tests are also able to differentiate between HSV-1 or HSV-2.

SelfCollect’s herpes virus test for men and women takes a sample of your DNA to determine if you have an active infection. 

Conclusion

Herpes has no cure, but it can be prevented by testing, communication between you, your partner(s) and your doctor, medication, practicing safe sex with a latex condom and only having one sexual partner. 

It is imperative that you know your risk for herpes before engaging in sexual intercourse, especially if you or your partner is worried about having the disease. Get tested quickly and know that DNA and blood tests can provide different results based on how early you got tested. 

A positive herpes test is not the end of the world. Only about 10% of people experience symptoms, according to ASHA, and it is completely manageable as long as you communicate with your doctor. 

If you’re about to engage in a new sexual relationship, refer your partner to SelfCollect so you both can safely be intimate with one another.