Herpes is one of the most alarming diagnoses a person can received – at least young people who have not progressed to the stage of life where life-threatening diseases become more common. For such young people, herpes is devastating, coming as it does with such a huge degree of social stigma.
The bad news is, herpes is quite common: “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 (ASHA). “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.” (1)
The situation is even more extreme on a global level, adds ASHA: “Globally, researchers estimate that about two-thirds of the population under age 50—more than 3.7 billion people–are infected with HSV-1. Some 140 million people aged 15-49 are infected with genital HSV-1, primarily in the Americas, Europe and Western Pacific.”
Given that almost 90 percent of people with genital herpes are unaware of the fact that they have it, the issue is even more pressing – especially since herpes and other diseases with open sores can make it more likely that you will contract other diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis C.
The best defense is a good offense, which means knowing what signs to look for and how to treat herpes in the most effective way. It also means a regular regimen of testing, which today is easier than ever. Let’s take a look at these factors one at a time.
What Is Herpes?
Herpes generates a great deal of confusion because of its placement and the confusing manner of its transmission. Both genital and oral herpes are caused by the herpes simplex virus. While oral herpes is caused by HSV-1, genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. The bad news there is that both viruses can be in both locations. Their names indicate the places they prefer, but not the places to which they are limited.
As an example, one sexual partner may be free of disease, while the other partner has oral herpes. However, if that partner performs oral sex on the clean partner, they may transmit genital herpes to the genital area. Herpes outbreaks are thereafter likelier to occur in the oral area (for the formerly clean but now infected partner), but may also appear in the genitals as well.
Herpes, fortunately, doesn’t transmit that easily from person to person: “One study examined rates of genital herpes transmission in heterosexual couples when only one partner was initially infected. Over one year, the virus was transmitted to the other partner in 10 percent of couples. In 70 percent of cases, infection occurred at a time when there were no symptoms.” (2)
It is this last fact that is most alarming: There needn’t be sores present in order for infection to occur. That, combined with the fact that a 10 percent transmission rate is still pretty high, make frequent testing important. But first, it’s good to know the signs and symptoms.
Symptoms of Herpes in Men vs Women
The general manifestation of herpes is open sores, cracked skin and bleeding spots. These patches erupt first as boils, which then pop open, leaving a bloody patch behind. Slowly, these patches scab over and heal, after which the person then enters an asymptomatic phase again. Over time, these phases become fewer and farther between. Though no one can ever be fully cured of herpes, with good management, it can become a very mild disease with a low chance of transmission and few symptoms.
The main symptoms include (3):
- Pain or itching in the area of the outbreak
- Small red bumps or white blisters
- Ulcers, which form once the blisters grow, rupture and ooze
- Red or brown scabs that form following the ruptures
- Flu-like symptoms and muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin or neck
- Sore mouth
The above symptoms are common to both men and women, who can both develop sores on the buttocks, thighs, anus, rectum, urethra and mouth. The main difference between men and women when it comes to herpes is the location. For obvious reasons, sores on the vagina, vulva and cervix are unique to women, while those on the penis and testicles occur in men only.
Note that herpes recurrences are quite common, especially at the beginning of the disease. Signs that an outbreak is coming on include pain and itching in the genital and anal area. Pain in the legs, buttocks and lower back. Antiviral drugs can help limit and relieve symptoms, but only if you know that the disease is there.
Remember that while herpes may seem more likely to transmit during a flare-up, that’s actually not the case in the couples tracked during the above-cited study. Herpes is both virulent and transmissible in its latent state, which makes testing absolutely critical.
Why Test for Herpes?
Herpes is an infection that causes open sores on the body. Any part of the body where blood is at the surface is more susceptible to bloodborne infections such as HIV and hepatitis C, both of which can prove deadly. Plus, herpes causes a great deal of shame and psychological distress in those who have it, and can break trust in relationships between partners where one transmits the disease to the other. Testing can substantially reduce the number of people who have the disease, as well as indicate when the disease is present and management is needed.
Luckily, testing today is far easier and more discreet than it used to be. With a home test kit such as iDNA, you can discover sexually transmitted diseases in the comfort of your own home without having to book an appointment with a doctor every time you worry about infection.
How Does It Work?
All you have to do is purchase the iDNA test kit online, collect a sample in your home, mail it off to the testing facility – which uses the same methods as real doctors – and wait for your results. Once they come in, you can make the decision about how to proceed then. The best part is that once you’re registered, you can keep testing whenever you need to, and be assured of a private result that will help you manage your sexual health for the rest of time.
Have questions? Ready to order a kit?
(1) Statistics. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/
(2) Patient Education: Genital Herpes (Beyond the Basics). (2019). Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/genital-herpes-beyond-the-basics
(3) Genital Herpes. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/symptoms-causes/syc-20356161