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What Is Herpes?

Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and is associated with painful sores and blisters in affected areas. There are two types of HSV:

  • Type 1, which causes oral herpes.
  • Type 2, which causes genital herpes.

Signs of Herpes

More than half the people in the U.S. have some form of herpes. Many people carry the virus without knowing it, however, because they don’t show obvious signs. Symptoms include:

  • With oral herpes, cold sores around the mouth.
  • With genital herpes, painful blisters around the genitals or anus, vaginal discharge in women, and pain when urinating, among others.

These signs aren’t constant but, rather, appear occasionally during outbreaks. Your initial outbreak might be severe, with following outbreaks decreasing in severity and length over time. People with a weaker immune systems tend to have more severe outbreaks.

If you notice the above symptoms in yourself or your partner, contact your health care provider to get tested.

Transmission

You can get herpes by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an affected individual. The virus spreads through open sores, saliva, and skin during an active infection. You can get herpes even if your partner isn’t having an outbreak or doesn’t know he or she has the virus. The best way to avoid spreading or contracting herpes is to avoid engaging in sexual activities during outbreaks and to always use condoms during sex. Just know that condoms won’t provide you with 100% protection against the virus.

Management

Once you’re infected with herpes, you carry the virus for life. While there’s no cure for the infection, your health care provider can prescribe you an antiviral medication designed to suppress the virus, reduce outbreak frequency and severity, and decrease your chances of passing it on to a sexual partner.

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