Frequently Asked Questions about Herpes

The following is a summary of questions and answers about herpes. Use this as a guide to all the important areas and concerns.

Remember, information is your key to controlling herpes. Keep in mind that the facts about herpes require some digestion. Terse answers to nagging questions can leave you feeling unfilled. However, the facts have been provided. It can be such an emotionally laden issue since it often touches so directly on sexuality.

Frequently Asked Questions about Herpes

In my experience, it takes many runs through the effects before they can be taken used effectively in prevention. But truly understanding the facts will help you live fully and without worry after contracting herpes.

How do I know if I have herpes?

There are so many infections and other problems that can occur in the mouth or genitals. Therefore, See a physician as soon as you notice unusual symptoms. A trained physician can usually distinguish herpes from other problems quite easily when a rash present. If no rash is present, he or she cannot. A blood test does not identify a rash as herpes. Instead, it will be whether or not you have been exposed to herpes at a time in the past. It does this by identifying those antibodies your body has produced against it.

A more definitive diagnosis can be made by means of a viral culture test. The infected area is swabbed or scraped. This specimen is then placed in a culture medium to see if the virus can be grown. If so, it provides a positive diagnosis.

This is important because many people think they have herpes when they may have some other problem. On the other hand, many people are running around with diagnosed herpes. The symptoms will go away in time, that is not the end of the story.

What causes herpes?

The disease referred to as herpes is caused by a virus. There are actually a group of herpes viruses that are responsible for several different diseases. This includes chickenpox in children and shingles in adults, the recurrent rashes of facial and genital herpes. These last types, HSV I and HSV II are what we are concerned here.

What is the difference between HSV I and HSV II? While HSV I and HSV II can be separately identified, this has little or no meaning in terms of symptoms. HSV I is used to referring to infections above the waist and HSV II to those below the waist.

According to the Center for Disease Control, one out of six people aged 14 to 49 years carries genital herpes. If you are concerned about contracting the herpes virus here are some steps you can take to minimize the risk.

  • Use a condom with a new sex partner if you suspect a chance of exposure to any sexually transmissible infection. (However, condoms can protect only the areas covered. If there are sores on the genitals outside the area covered by the condom, transmittal is possible.
  • Know your partner. Will he or she willingly or carelessly hurt you?
  • If your partner has a cold sore, don’t kiss or allow oral sex. Take time to get to know and enjoy your partner’s body before intercourse. The virus does not penetrate the skin but requires an abrasion or mucous membranes to inoculate the body. If you come across something that should not be there, ask!
  • Ask anyway.

Will using a condom protect my partner?

Using a condom when there are active sores present is not a good idea. The sores will most likely be aggravated, the infection spread and healing retarded. Best to avoid intercourse until the sores are gone.

What happens when herpes is contracted?

We have to distinguish between a primary (first time) infection and recurrent attacks. In a primary exposure to herpes, the symptoms may be very slight or quite severe. This depends on a variety of factors including the amount of virus, state of health, and constitution.

Typically, symptoms will show between two and twenty days after contact. A rash will develop where contact occurred. If this was in the genital region, it will show as red patches with blister-like white sores. You may or may not also experience a swelling and tenderness in the groin; pain or burning on urination; a vaginal discharge; fever and general discomfort.

How does herpes become dormant?

This initial illness will last between two and three weeks in most cases. Then the sores will heal and new skin will grow over the area. And there will be no scarring or residual effects.

Can I get herpes internally?

Yes: You can get it in the mouth or throat, vagina, or cervix, and anus. These all have mucous membranes that allow passage of the virus into the body. If this occurs, the other general symptoms also will most likely occur.

What are recurrences?

herpes painRecurrences refer to times when the herpes rash reappears, apparently from nowhere, at the site where the initial infection occurred. This doesn’t happen to everyone. Many people have only one bout with herpes and no future rashes. With others, the rash periodically reappears perhaps three to five times a year (less for many). Recurrences, on the whole, are much less severe than primary infections and usually last between four and ten days.

Recurrences happen with herpes because it is a virus that can go into a dormant or latent in the body. Latent means hidden, and dormant you can take something like sleeping or inactive. Wart viruses can do this. After a wart has been replaced by new skin, the virus still resides in the body.

Herpes and Pregnancy

Herpes is a clever virus. It escapes body defenses by entering the nearest nerve cells where it is safe from the immune system. When body defenses kill off cells invaded by the virus, some viruses escape. They get away from the skin surface to become sleeping partners in the cells’ nuclei. There is no rash and no virus surface. And for all intents and purposes no other indication that it is present at all. In this state, it cannot be transmitted.

How do recurrences happen?

Under particular conditions, the virus will begin to retrace its migration path back toward the skin surface. It will then infect surface cells and cause another rash.

What factors are important in recurrences?

There are four major factors:

  • Physical trauma (in the form of sunlight) can facilitate facial sores.
  • Abrasions of the skin or mucous membranes are factors in all types of sores.
  • Sudden physiological changes in body balance (all types of sores).
  • Emotional stress (all types).

We don’t understand specifically how or why the virus decides to come out of its latent state. Or how physical or emotional trauma can help trigger reactivations. But these four are the most common-contributors to reactivations. If they are present, they will also tend to prolong the healing process once a recurrence has begun.

Why do some people have recurrences more often than others or for longer periods of time?

There are many individual factors operating. They include physical constitution, lifestyle, and ways of coping with the world in general. In severe cases, with chronic outbreaks, other factors, such as a nutritional or immunological deficiency should be attended to professionally.

Are there complications associated with herpes?

Yes, but before outlining them, I want to impress upon you that they can all be dealt with easily. You just need a little bit of care. So get the facts, use them and then drop most of the worry.

Can I get HSV I on the genitals or HSV II on the face?

Yes. The virus that produces a fever blister can also cause genital sores if that is where it enters the body. Similarly, HSV II can cause an infection on the face from the genitals. So far as can be ascertained, it doesn’t matter which virus a person becomes infected with. The symptoms will be the same. It is the location where the infection first occurred that is significant, not whether it is HSV I or II. How is herpes contracted?

Herpes is contracted only through direct physical contact with an active infection in another person. An active infection means sores on the skin or mucous membranes of the body containing herpes viruses. Virus contained in these sores can gain access to another person’s body through mucous membranes or abrasions in the skin. Therefore, sexual intercourse with someone who has genital sores will most likely result in a spread of the virus. Similarly, kissing a person who has a cold sore will most probably cause an infection on the face or in the mouth of the other person.

If I have cold sores will I get genital herpes?

The infections you will get will be localized to the area initially infected. To get a genital infection from facial sores, you would have to physically put the virus there. In other words, it will not run through your body to suddenly show up on the genitals.

Will having cold sores protect me from getting another kind of herpes infection?

While there is some evidence that a history of herpes might afford some protection from contact with the virus, it is quite clear that people can get more than one infection in different locations. It is possible to have HSV I on the lips and HSV II on the genitals and even another HSV I or II infection somewhere else. It is uncommon but possible. Getting herpes from one person does not leave you immune to infections from others. It can result in facial or mouth herpes in the other person. Again herpes is transmitted’ by direct physical contact. The part the body that comes in contact with any infection is the part that will become infected.

Can I get herpes in any other way than by sex?

Since direct physical contact is the means of transmission, you can get herpes by touching active sores in the other person. This is how some people get herpes on the finger and others in contact sports such as wrestling ‘get herpes on other body areas. But by far the most common‘ means is through kissing and sexual intercourse. You can not get herpes just’ being around someone who is broken out in a rash. You must touch the sores directly.

What factors play a role in the transmission of herpes from one person to another?

The things of importance are:

  • How much virus a person was exposed to
  • That person’s constitution – how he or she characteristically is built to respond to a herpes virus invasion.
  • The state of resistance. Run-down people are more likely to succumb to infection than are healthy people

Can I get herpes from toilet seats or water glasses?

It is almost impossible. The herpes virus dies as soon as it leaves the body tissue. While it is a good idea to separate towels, toothbrushes, food and drinking utensils when someone in the family has herpes sores, the chance of infection by these routes is essentially zero. Precautions, however, will relieve anxiety. Are some people immune to herpes infections? Some people seem better able than others to withstand herpes inoculations. Similarly, infections in different people will have different degrees of severity.