The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a common sexually transmitted disease. Although doctors can treat symptoms, relieve pain, and reduce your chances of spreading the infection, it cannot be cured. Instead, it remains inactive and can return at any time with symptoms. Find out if you have herpes by examining high-risk behaviors, recognizing symptoms, and getting tested for STDs.
Part 1 of 3: Recognizing Herpes Symptoms
Step 1. Learn about the herpes virus
There are two types of the herpes virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both are considered genital herpes. HSV-1 is the most common on the lips and inside the mouth, but it can be spread through oral sex, just like HSV-2. There are ways to effectively hide it and to treat symptoms of both types when they appear.
Treatment is an important part of managing the disease. If you do not treat genital herpes, you may spread the disease to others (including your baby if you are pregnant), experience bladder inflammation, notice inflammation in the rectum, and in severe cases, you get meningitis
Step 2. You should be on the lookout for symptoms about 2 weeks after contracting herpes
Although it may take a while for the first outbreak to appear, it is usually worse than the outbreaks that come later. You may not see that you have been exposed to this disease, so pay close attention to any symptoms that you start to develop. Flu symptoms are signs of infection. You could also have a fever, muscle aches, decreased appetite, and fatigue. See your doctor if you think you are experiencing your first herpes outbreak.
For some people, it may be difficult to tell that they have been exposed to this virus, as symptoms take a long time to appear. Perhaps this is because this disease can be spread by people who do not show obvious symptoms of herpes
Step 3. You should be aware of redness and itching
After you have had sexual contact, pay attention to any redness or itching around your genitals or your mouth. You may even notice a tingling or warm skin in the affected area. A few days later, you may see a rash or herpes outbreak on your skin. You should also know that some external factors could contribute to the outbreak after infection. These might be:
- A trauma, stress or menstruation. They can release cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones, or they can radically change the levels of hormones in your body. Any of these elements can decrease your body's ability to fight infection. This gives the herpes virus a chance to become an outbreak.
- Burning and stinging before an outbreak (known as prodrome). Reducing the stinging and burning when herpes is about to break out can speed up the outbreak. Scratching yourself once the outbreak has appeared can cause more outbreaks and spread the virus.
- Sunlight and fever. Sunlight exposes your body to ultraviolet radiation, which can irritate your skin and compromise underlying cells, giving an opportunity for a herpes outbreak to appear. A fever or cold compromises your immune system so your body cannot fight the infection, leading to an outbreak.
Step 4. Look for blisters on or around the genitals
You may notice that small blisters (bullae or vesicles) appear about 6 to 48 hours after other symptoms emerge. If the blisters burst and become sores, you will see that they are filled with a straw-colored fluid. Look for more blisters on your lips, mouth, eyes, tongue, and other parts of your body. You may feel a tingling sensation in the area before a blister appears.
- In women, blisters can appear on the labia, vagina, anus, cervix, buttocks, and thighs. Ulcers normally heal in 7 to 14 days.
- In men, blisters usually appear on the scrotum, penis, buttocks, and thighs.
Step 5. Notice any painful urination
During an outbreak, urination can be very painful. If you have trouble urinating during an outbreak, as some women claim, seek medical attention. Women should also look for any non-specific vaginal discharge (any unnatural or unusual vaginal discharge that you are not used to). It could be clear, white, or off-white in color and it may also emit odors, although this varies from woman to woman.
Keep in mind that vaginal discharge is not a symptom that indicates that you have herpes, but it is a symptom that, along with other symptoms, could help diagnose herpes
Part 2 of 3: Seeking Medical Attention and Controlling Herpes
Step 1. Go to the doctor or clinic for a test
Your doctor can schedule an STD test or take a sample from an open culture, if you currently have an outbreak. The doctor can use the culture to check for the herpes virus. Your first tests will include lab and imaging tests.
- Diagnosis is usually made by a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) -based test. A synthetic swab is rubbed vigorously over the abnormal skin, the sample is placed in a liquid, and sent to the laboratory. Then, with specialized laboratory techniques, the sample is amplified many times to see if the patient has herpes.
- In some cases, your doctor may perform a specific antibody test to identify the type of herpes. This test uses an antibody to specifically target and determine if the infection is HSV-1 or HSV-2. 50% of infected people usually test positive 3 weeks after infection. If you have been infected for more than 16 weeks, the result of this test will most likely be positive.
- Your doctor may also consider a PCR-based injury test. A sterile swab is used to clean the base of the lesion (applying enough pressure to collect the epithelial cells without causing bleeding) and collect the gallbladder fluid. Then it is sent to the laboratory for a diagnosis.
Step 2. Treat your symptoms with antiviral medications for herpes
If you test positive for herpes, your doctor will prescribe medications to help clear the virus and its symptoms. Medications also reduce the risk of spreading the herpes simplex virus to other people. Begin treatment immediately or as soon as possible and continue as directed by your doctor. Antiviral medications against herpes are:
- Acyclovir. It is a first-line medicine for genital lesions or frequent lesions on the labia caused by herpes. It can also be used topically to treat inflammation in herpes-infected eyes. Acyclovir is considered relatively safe for pregnant and lactating women, and it is also used for pediatric cases.
- Penciclovir. It is a cream that is used as a first-line medicine to treat oral lesions topically.
- Valacyclovir. It is a first-line medicine used to treat initial herpes and recurrent genital herpes.
- The foscarnet. It is considered a second-line drug and is used when there is resistance to acyclovir, the favorite first-line drug. This can happen in people with a very weak immune system and suffering from a systemic herpes infection.
Step 3. Control herpes by taking control of your situation
Research herpes and learn about the virus and infection. The more you understand about what is happening in your body, the easier it will be to deal with rashes and breakouts. Herpes is documented and well studied. Research is ongoing in this area and new treatments could be on the way.
Your doctor will also provide you with many recommendations and can keep you up to date on the latest medications available to you
Step 4. Avoid spreading the infection
Take the time to explain your illness to your sexual partners. Take precautionary steps to spread the virus further. These measures will mainly come from changes in your lifestyle. For example, you should avoid having many sexual partners, use a condom when you don't have breakouts, and avoid having sex when you have breakouts.
You should also avoid touching any type of herpes sore. If you do, immediately wash your hands with soap and water to kill the virus. If you have cold sores, don't kiss anyone
Part 3 of 3: Examine High-Risk Behaviors
Step 1. Review the high risk factors
You should realize that many people with genital herpes live without symptoms for quite some time. Using high-risk factors to determine that you need a test can help you treat yourself early. The factors that increase your chances of getting herpes are:
- Immunocompromised states. A compromised immune system itself will not cause herpes, but it will make it difficult for your body to fight an infection or outbreak. Illness, stress, AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and even old age can be factors that could make you more vulnerable to infection with the herpes virus HSV-1 or HSV-2.
- Atopic eczema in children (also known as dermatitis). Eczema is a very common itchy skin condition, but if you become infected with herpes, it can cause a serious skin condition.
- Exposure to the virus in the workplace. Some professionals who are exposed to the virus may have a higher risk of contracting this disease. For example, dental health professionals are at increased risk of contracting HSV-2, resulting in a very painful infection in the hand.
Step 2. Think about whether you have recently had unprotected sex
Sexual activity makes you more likely to get HSV-2. However, unprotected sex can spread herpes, especially during an outbreak. Herpes can spread on the moist linings (mucous areas) of the skin; therefore, the skin, mouth, anus, penis, and vagina are at increased risk of transferring the disease. When an infected area of a person comes into contact with the mucous area of a person who is not infected, the disease could be transmitted.
The types of contact that can easily spread the disease are oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex (or any combination of these in which the mucous membranes come into contact with each other)
Step 3. Determine your recent number of sexual partners
Since herpes can be contracted orally or through genital contact, your chances of contracting the disease may increase with the number of sexual partners you have. The more sexual partners you have, the higher your risk of getting genital herpes.
Step 4. If you are a woman, you must understand that you are at higher risk
Women are more likely to get herpes because it is more easily transferred from men to women than from women to men. For example, women have an infection rate of 20.3% compared to 10.6% of men.