Since middle school, children are warned about the dangers of STDs. There are many to choose from, of course, but one of the most unpleasant is herpes. While it is the butt of many jokes, it is also a very real disease with very disconcerting symptoms. Its patches of boils, open sores and scabs make sufferers feel insecure about sexual activity, not to mention create significant discomfort during outbreaks.
While there are a number of treatments available for herpes today, it’s best to avoid the disease altogether. In order to do that, it’s helpful to know the signs as well as have a regular approach to testing, both yourself and your partners. Let’s take a closer look at herpes to safeguard your sexual health today.
What Is Herpes?
Unlike many other STDs, which have a clear origin and symptoms, herpes is a little confusing. It can appear on your mouth or genitals, as well as the anus and thigh area. It can be hard to tell where it comes from, since the disease is transmittable even when totally asymptomatic. And its various forms can transmit between different parts of the body with ease.
The root of this confusion is the fact that herpes simplex, the virus responsible for herpes, has two main forms. According to Healthline, these are as follows (1):
- HSV-1: primarily causes oral herpes, and is generally responsible for cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth and on the face.
- HSV-2: primarily causes genital herpes, and is generally responsible for genital herpes outbreaks.
The confusing part is that you can get either HSV-1 or HSV-2 on your mouth or genitals (and as discussed, in the areas surrounding your genitals as well). Usually, when the disease transmits from a partner’s mouth to the other partner’s genitals, or vice versa, the first outbreak will appear at the site of transmission. After that, it will likely reappear in the location preferred by the disease type. So if one partner gives another partner oral herpes when performing oral sex, it might appear on the genitals at first. Later, though, outbreaks will likely occur on the mouth.
How Common Is Herpes?
“Herpes infection is common. About 1 in 8 people aged 14-49 in the U.S. has genital herpes,” says the American Sexual Health Association. “About 1 in 2 people ages 14-49 in the U.S. are infected with HSV-1, which is the typical cause of oral herpes. However, increasing numbers of genital herpes cases are caused by HSV-1.” Globally, the number of people infected with HSV-1 is likely closer to two-thirds. (2)
Part of its prevalence has to do with the fact that it is frequently asymptomatic. ASHA says that “Symptoms of genital herpes often go unnoticed. Most people with genital herpes—close to 90%—don’t know they have the infection.”
Why Test for Herpes?
Herpes can pass not only from person to person during sexual activity, but also from mothers to babies during vaginal delivery. Moreover, having herpes can make it more likely that the sufferer will contract or pass on a bloodborne disease such as HIV or hepatitis C, due to the open sores that make contact with blood possible.
That’s why it’s so important to test for herpes. Not only should you know if you have it for your own sake, but you should take steps to manage it for the sake of your current and future partners. Knowing that you have the disease gives you the tools to medicate, moderate and watch for the disease – all of which make it less likely that you’ll pass it on or suffer from outbreaks.
So, what are the best ways to test for herpes? There are two main factors to consider: timing and fluid.
How to Test for Herpes: Timing
No disease is detectable right away. The way we look for the presence of disease is by searching for the antibodies that the body produces in response to them. It takes a while for the human immune system to react to the disease and produce those antibodies, and until it does, lab technicians can’t identify it.
Further complicating matters is the fact that so many people have HSV-1, which can create a false positive for HSV-2. Mistaking oral herpes for genital herpes is not only distressing to some people, but it may confuse the issue, when what they really need to do is treat the oral herpes (which they might not even have known they had).
The best way to counteract confusion is to wait an appropriate amount of time, even if it is hard to do so. “For the most accurate test result, it is recommended to wait 12-16 weeks from the last possible date of exposure before getting an accurate, type-specific blood test in order to allow enough time for antibodies to reach detectable levels,” recommends ASHA. (3)
How to Test for Herpes: Fluids
There are two basic ways to test for herpes:
- Take a swab from a sore and culture it to see what grows. This obviously requires the presence of symptoms.
- Take a blood test. This is much more effective, works in all cases, and can be done from home.
Should You Test for Herpes from Home?
Again, keep in mind that herpes frequently manifests no symptoms. For that reason, you should not wait to see symptoms before getting tested. Any time you switch partners, have unprotected sex, have sex with multiple partners or have sex when you are not in full possession of your faculties, you should get tested – after waiting the appropriate amount of time for symptoms to develop, which varies with each disease.
It is true that some diseases, such as herpes, are more likely to deliver false positives without extensive testing. However, it’s critical to test for them as frequently as possible anyway. The “worst” thing that can happen with a false positive is that you find out it is false; this is much better than assuming you are negative.
If you’re worried about the time, hassle, expense and embarrassment of going into a clinic to get tested, worry no longer. The team here at iDNA has you covered, with an easy-to-use at-home kit that will get you the results you need to make an informed decision, right from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Mail-order your test kit today, collect a sample, send it to our labs, register online and simply wait for results. Then and only then, if you get a positive, you know to get in touch with your physician and make an appointment.
Ready to take charge of your sexual health today? Order a home std kit from iDNA and get the information you need to stay health, happy and whole!
- (1) Herpes Simplex. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/herpes-simplex#prevention
- (2) Statistics. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/
- (3) Herpes Testing. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/herpes/herpes-testing/