What is Herpes?

Herpes is a viral disease caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus. The infections are generally categorised by the parts of the body it infects. It is highly infectious and there are two types of the virus:

  • Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV I) most commonly causes oral infections, such as cold sores around the mouth and the lips. This virus can be caught through oral sex from the infected mouth to the genitals.
  • Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV II) most commonly causes genital infections, such as blisters or ulcers around the genitals. The virus can also be caught through oral sex from the infected genitals to the mouth.

HSV I is responsible for about half of all "Genital Herpes" cases known. The infection can occur in many sexual and non-sexual ways. HSV II, or Genital Herpes, is primarily transmitted through sexual contact. 50% of people who have HSV II may not know they are infected as they may not have symptoms. The virus can be passed onto partners during sex when the infected person has symptoms, but it can also infect a partner if there are no symptoms present.

Did you know? …

Most people with Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV II) do not know that they are infected.

How can I get Herpes?

HSV I and HSV II are transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal contact meaning that they are not necessarily transmitted through sexual intercourse. Both virus types are highly contagious and are most commonly passed from person to person by touching the blisters or sores of the symptomatic person. The risk of catching or transmitting these viruses is likely if you or your partner has blisters or sores, but Herpes can still be transmitted if you or your partner does not have symptoms.

Once you have been infected with Herpes, it can be reactivated every so often causing new episodes or outbreaks. Recurrent symptoms are almost always on visible skin.

How do I know if I have Herpes?

Symptoms for HSV usually appear after 4 to 7 days after being exposed to the virus, and are more severe the first time around than in recurrent outbreaks. The virus causes small blisters that burst to leave red open sores around the mouth and lips, genital area, rectum, thighs and buttocks. Blisters can be small or large and can be just one blister, or many located close together.

Other symptoms can include pain when passing urine, a general feeling of being unwell, aches, pains and flu-like symptoms, and a burning, tingling or an itching sensation. Most people catch the virus without developing these symptoms.

How can I test for Herpes?

There are two ways to test for the virus with Better2Know:

  • Blood Test - our standard test whether or not you have symptoms
  • Swab Test - if you have a blister or other lesion for swabbing to see if it is caused by HSV.

If you have symptoms, you can choose to have a blood or a swab test. A blood test is most suitable if you have no symptoms. The results are available 3-5 working days from the sample being received in our laboratory, depending on which type of sample is taken. 

How is Herpes treated?

HSV I and HSV II stay in the body forever once caught. A minority of those infected experience recurrent outbreaks. Fortunately, these outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe. Anti-viral medications (both creams and pills) can reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of outbreaks. Lifestyle changes can also help control the time between outbreaks and their severity. If you test positive, Better2Know can provide you with medication and advice on lifestyle changes to help you control the infection.

Over time recurrent infections become less frequent and less severe so many people find their reliance on medications reduces.

What are the risks if Herpes is left untreated?

If you have symptoms it is important that you use a condom or refrain from sex. It is important to remember that neither condoms nor any other kind of contraceptive device will protect you from a Herpes infection.

In some cases, HSV can pose problems during pregnancy and can be passed to the baby during birth. However, women who have carried the virus for some time before becoming pregnant are less likely to pass the infection to their baby. Blisters or ulcers that are near the vaginal opening during delivery can cause the virus to be passed onto the baby which can cause serious neo-natal infections. If symptoms develop for the first time during pregnancy there is a risk of miscarriage or passing the infection to the baby.

In rare cases, blisters caused by HSV can become infected by bacteria and cause skin infections that can spread to other parts of the body such as the lips, hands and fingers. In very rare cases, the virus can spread to other areas of the body such as the brain, eyes, liver or lungs. It is important to get tested so that you know your status and can keep your partners and loved ones safe from this infection.