Herpes is a very common viral infection that is easily spread from one person to another. Two different viruses cause a Herpes infection, known as Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Oral Herpes is usually caused by an HSV-1 infection and can cause the formation of tiny fluid-filled blisters or cold sores on the mouth and lips. Genital Herpes is usually caused by an HSV-2 infection, and it causes sores around the genitals, anus buttocks.

How common is Herpes?

Herpes infection is very common and is easily spread from one person to another. Worldwide about 67% of people below the age of 50 have been infected with HSV-1 whilst 417 million people are estimated to have an HSV-2 infection. HSV-1 is the more common form of Herpes. Herpes, particularly HSV 2, is more common in women than in men.

How can I catch Herpes?

Herpes is caught by unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal contact with a person who is infected. This contact can either be sexual or non-sexual. HSV-1 is most commonly caught by kissing whilst HSV-2 is normally caught through unprotected sexual contact.

You are at high risk of catching either virus if you have physical contact with someone with visible blisters or sores. Occasionally, the virus is spread between people despite no visible symptoms of infection. This is called "asymptomatic viral shedding".

Can I catch Herpes without being sexually active?

Herpes can be caught by sexual or non-sexual contact (e.g., kissing). You cannot catch Herpes from towels, cutlery, cups, or other shared items. This is because the virus dies very quickly when it is not on the skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of Herpes?

Only 1 in 3 people will experience Herpes symptoms and if experienced, these are normally mild. Symptoms are similar between men and women and are often not noticed or confused for bacterial infections.

The first symptoms of oral Herpes are tingling, itching, or a burning sensation in or around the mouth. This is normally followed by painful blisters or open sores (ulcers) in or around the mouth. Blisters are often seen within 3 weeks after an HSV1 infection.

Early symptoms of Genital Herpes include fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes. This is followed by genital or anal blisters or open sores. Some people also experience pain when urinating. Sores inside the vagina or anus are usually only seen on the first outbreak (visible symptoms).

The first outbreak of Herpes is likely to have the most severe symptoms. Repeated outbreaks of Herpes are milder and over time become less frequent. Recurrent symptoms are most commonly visible on the skin.

When should I get tested for Herpes?

If you have symptoms, you can be tested for Herpes at any time. If you do not have any symptoms, you should wait 4 weeks after any incident you are concerned about before testing for Herpes. You may wish to test for Herpes to take control of your sexual health and for your peace of mind.

How do I get tested for Herpes?

Take charge of your health with Better2Know testing. Testing with Better2Know is fast, simple, and painless. Better2Know offers three different ways to test for both types of HSV:

  • Blood test – if you have no symptoms

  • Urine test – if you currently have symptoms

  • Swab test – if you have a blister or open sore

You will normally receive your test results 2─5 working days after your sample arrives at our laboratory. The results will tell you if you have HSV-1 and/or HSV-2 infection(s).

What are the risks if Herpes is left untreated?

Whilst Herpes is unlikely to cause any serious health problems, it can be very uncomfortable, and physically draining. It is important to get tested so that you do not pass on Herpes to other people. If Herpes is left untreated this may increase your risk of catching another sexually transmitted infection (STI).

In rare cases, the blisters can become infected by bacteria leading to skin infections that can spread to other parts of the body including 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. Touching a Herpes sore can also lead to a condition known as Herpetic Whitlow, where the Herpes Simplex virus infects the fingers and thumb. This can be very painful and will require medical treatment.

How can Herpes affect a pregnant person and their baby?

Pregnancy can increase the risk of Herpes outbreaks, and these are unlikely to harm the baby. Some women who have never had Herpes symptoms before may experience them for the first time during pregnancy.

Neonatal (newborn) Herpes is seen in 1 in 10,000 births worldwide. It can lead to lasting neurological (brain) disabilities or even death. The risk of neonatal Herpes is higher if the mother becomes infected with the Herpes virus for the first time during pregnancy and has sores near the opening of the vagina. If this is the case a caesarean section will often be carried out. If the mother is infected for the first time during the early stages of pregnancy there is an increased risk of miscarriage. If the pregnant woman is experiencing a reoccurring outbreak, vaginal birth is suggested. If you are worried about Herpes during pregnancy, please seek advice from your midwife.

What do I do if I test positive for Herpes?

Since the virus stays in the nerves surrounding the infected area permanently, there is no cure for Herpes. However, there any many medications and creams which can help reduce the severity and frequency of any outbreaks.

Your doctor will be able to advise which medications and lifestyle changes may be helpful. If you receive a positive test result, you should discuss this with a doctor of your choice. If you would like Better2Know to arrange a private doctor’s appointment for you, please phone the number at the top of the page.

When you have symptoms of Herpes you are more likely to infect others with the virus. It is recommended that you practice safe sex with a condom or do not have sex until the symptoms are gone.

How is Herpes treated?

There is no cure for Herpes. Treatments such as anti-viral medications (both creams and pills) can help control the infection and reduce the number of outbreaks. Lifestyle changes such as minimising stress can also help increase the time between outbreaks and reduce their severity. Whilst you have symptoms of Herpes you should not have any form of unprotected sex.

At Better2Know we can arrange a private doctor’s appointment to discuss your results. If you prefer you can consult a doctor of your choice.

Can Herpes come back?

The Herpes virus stays in the nerves of the infected area for life. The virus remains inactive, until environmental conditions (e.g., cold or windy weather), stress or other factors activates it. Once the virus becomes activated an outbreak occurs. Most people will have 2-4 outbreaks per year but this will vary with each individual.

When can I have sex again after being treated for Herpes?

You should not have unprotected sex until your symptoms have gone. This is to reduce the risk of you infecting your sexual partner(s).

How do I book a Herpes test?

Better2Know is the world’s leading provider of private sexual health testing services. We provide you with fast and accurate testing to give you peace of mind.

You can book a test today with Better2Know by calling our Sexual Health Advisory team on the number above. Our expert Patient Services staff will help you select the right test and book any follow-up appointments if requested. If you prefer to book your test online, you can do so by clicking the Get Started button here.

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