What is Herpes?

Herpes is a very common and infectious virus. There are two main types:

  • Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV I) - The most likely cause of cold sores, typically around the mouth. This virus can also be caught genitally through oral sex.
  • Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV II) - The virus that typically causes sores, usually around the genitals. It may also be caught around the mouth through oral sex.

Your Better2Know test will tell you which (if any) type of the virus you have.

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Did you know? …

1 in 3 people with Herpes will have symptoms, whilst 2 in 3 will only have mild symptoms or none at all. Click here to see the full article.

How can I catch it?

Herpes is spread through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal contact with an infected person. This can include kissing or touching an infected blister, as well as sexual intercourse.

HSV I infection can occur in many sexual and non-sexual ways. It is also responsible for about half of "Genital Herpes" cases.

HSV II, or Genital Herpes, is typically caught on the genitals and is transmitted through sexual contact. Up to half of those who have HSV II are unlikely to know they are infected as their symptoms will be minimal or non-existent. They are capable of infecting partners through sex when the virus is present on the genitals causing pimples, little cuts, itchy or sore skin.

The risk of catching or transmitting the virus is highest when you or your partner has blisters or sores. It is still possible to contract Herpes when your partner does not have any visible sores or blisters. This is much less likely and is called "asymptomatic viral shedding".

Recurrent symptoms are almost always on visible skin. Sores inside the vagina or anus are usually only present during the first outbreak.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Herpes may cause blisters on the lips and genital areas of both men and women. These blisters typically develop within two days to three weeks after first getting infected. The blisters start off as small bumps, then grow into full blisters and burst, releasing fluid. Blisters can be small or large and can be just one blister, or many located close together.

Other symptoms can include painful itching, burning, swollen glands in the groin, headaches and generalised muscle aches. The first episode or outbreak is usually the most severe with later outbreaks becoming milder. Most people catch the virus without developing these symptoms.

How can I test for Herpes?

Better2Know has three ways of testing for the virus:

  • Blood test - Our standard test (whether you have symptoms or not)
  • Urine test - If you currently have symptoms
  • Swab test - If you have a blister or other lesion for swabbing to see if it is caused by the Herpes virus.

At Better2Know, you can choose your test method: urine or a swab if you have symptoms, and blood if you do not. Results are available two to five working days from the sample being received in the lab depending on which sample is taken. The test will determine whether you have HSV I, HSV II, both types, or neither.

If left untreated, what are the health risks?

Most people with Herpes can control their symptoms with medication. It is advised to not have sex, or to use a condom if you have symptoms.

Pregnant women who have carried the virus for some time are unlikely to pass the infection to their baby. However, primary (first time) lesions that are exposed near the vaginal opening during delivery could cause the virus to be passed on, potentially causing a serious infection in the baby. In these cases, a caesarean section is often carried out. If it is not your first outbreak, a normal vaginal birth is suggested.

There is an increased chance of recurrent symptoms during pregnancy. These are not likely to harm your baby. This does mean that some women who have previously been asymptomatic may notice symptoms for the first time whist pregnant. If you are in any way worried about Herpes and pregnancy, please consult your midwife.

What if I test positive for Herpes?

There is currently no medication available to eliminate the virus from the body. There are many treatments, however, which are very effective at reducing both the severity and frequency of any outbreaks. Creams and medications are available to manage the symptoms.

Medications to treat HSV-1 are usually available over the counter whilst others may need a doctor's prescription. If you test positive for Herpes, your Better2Know doctor will be able to prescribe the right treatment for you.

You are most likely to pass the virus on when you have symptoms so you should abstain or practice safe sex with a condom during this time. Organisations such as The STI Project are there to support you and provide an online forum for people to share their stories.

Book your Herpes test

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