Herpes: Myths & Misconceptions
Herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which has two varieties: HSV-1 and HSV-2. About 1 in 6 people between the ages of 14 and 49 are infected with herpes, and many don't know they have it.
You can contract herpes by having sex with an infected person, but that's not the only way. Let's look at some myths and realities of the disease.
Myth: Herpes is curable.
Reality: Herpes is an STD that's treatable but not curable. Once you have herpes, the virus stays in your body, even after you undergo treatment. While treatment can reduce your risk of having an outbreak and spreading herpes to other people, the virus stays in your nerve cells. If you're sexually active, use prevention strategies to lower your risk of contracting or spreading herpes.
Myth: Herpes always causes symptoms.
Reality: Symptoms of herpes can come and go, and sometimes they're so mild you don't notice them. Symptoms usually appear (if they show up) about two to 12 days after you're exposed to the virus. Signs and symptoms to watch for include pain or tenderness in your genital area, tiny red bumps, small white blisters, genital sores, scabs or pain with urination.
With an initial herpes outbreak, you may experience flu-like symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes in your groin area, muscle aches, headaches and fever. There's a chance, though, you might not notice any symptoms.
Myth: Herpes sores appear only on an infected individual's genitals.
Reality: Sores associated with herpes appear in areas at or near the site of infection, or in places the herpes virus entered your body. Herpes sores can show up on your genitals or other areas. You might notice small sores, blisters or scabs on your buttocks, anus, thighs, mouth, urethra, vagina, cervix, penis or scrotum.
Myth: I can't get herpes from oral sex.
Reality: Herpes can spread from person to person through oral sex in addition to vaginal or anal sex. HSV-1 is associated with oral herpes but can still be transmitted to genitals. During oral sex, the herpes virus can spread from an infected partner's mouth to the other partner's genitals, or vice versa. Use a dental dam during oral sex to reduce your risk of contracting herpes and other STDs.
Myth: I must have sex to contract herpes.
Reality: In addition to being able to contract herpes by having sex, you can get the virus after intimate skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner, especially if that person is having a herpes outbreak (exhibiting visible symptoms). If you have herpes or any other STD, always disclose that fact to a sexual partner, and also avoid being intimate with someone who shows signs of herpes.
Myth: I can't get herpes if I use condoms.
Reality: Using condoms and dental dams can reduce the risk of spreading herpes from person to person during sexual contact, but condoms aren't 100 percent effective for preventing STD transmission. This is especially true for herpes, since skin-to-skin contact is a method of transmission.
The only way to reduce the risk of contracting herpes entirely is to abstain from sex. If you're sexually active, choose a mutually monogamous partner who has tested negative for herpes and other STDs. If you're not in an exclusive relationship, avoid intimate contact with people who have sores on their mouth or genital region.