Genital herpes is one of the most dreaded sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Not only is it painful and embarrassing, but it is also permanent. While there are treatments that can help to soothe the symptoms of and reduce the frequency of genital herpes outbreaks, there is no cure for the disease. Once contracted, it cannot be gotten rid of, and there is always a risk of passing the disease onto others with whom an infected person has sexual contact. Many people who have the disease do not have any noticeable herpes symptoms and therefore are not aware that they have it. That is what makes the disease, which affects one in five adults, so easy to spread and is why new infections happen so frequently.
How Herpes Spreads
As mentioned, herpes is not a difficult disease to spread to others. Anytime you have unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person, you put yourself at risk of contracting the disease. A lot of people feel comfortable engaging in sexual activities with people who do not have any visible sores on their genitals. While the risk of contracting the disease is definitely higher if your partner has visible sores, the disease can still be spread when no sores are present. That’s because the herpes simplex virus can be released through the skin of an infected person. When sores are present, the disease is typically spread through contact with fluids from the sores. Because herpes can be spread so easily, with or without sores present, it’s important to use a condom each and every time you engage in sexual contact, especially with a person who has a known infection or who may have been exposed to the virus.
People spread stories about the horrors of genital herpes infection and about the horrific herpes symptoms. While some people do have painful infections, there are many people who experience no symptoms at all or who have very mild symptoms. These people may never realize that they have the disease and may thus continue passing it onto others for years. Some herpes symptoms that may present themselves include:
- Pain or itching of or around the genitals (typically occurs within 10 days of exposure to the virus)
- Genital scabs
- The appearance of bumps or blisters on the genitals
- Oozing or bleeding ulcers on or around the genitals
- General pain or burning of the genitals
- Pain when urinating
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
- Muscle aches
Finding Out if You Have Herpes
Diagnosing genital herpes is not difficult. Typically, all you have to do is visit your doctor. He or she may be able to diagnose herpes just by looking at your herpes symptoms. Some healthcare professionals may also take a sample from the affected area and test it; this is often done when the healthcare professional is unsure what type of herpes you have been infected with. Even if you are fairly sure that you have genital herpes, it’s smart to talk with your healthcare provider about your options for minimizing symptoms and reducing outbreaks.