What is Herpes?
Herpes is a very common and highly infectious virus which has two types:
- Herpes Simplex Virus Type One (HSV I): The most likely cause of cold sores, usually situated around the mouth. This virus can also be caught genitally through oral sex.
- Herpes Simplex Virus Type Two (HSV II): This virus causes sores, typically around the genitals. It may also be contracted around the mouth through oral sex.
Your Better2Know test will tell you which type of the virus (if any) you have.
HSV I is one of the most common STIs. Transmission of the virus can occur in many sexual and non-sexual ways. Oral herpes can be uncomfortable and cause blisters around the mouth.
HSV II most commonly infects the genital area, causing blisters and painful sores, and can be caught following sexual contact with an infected partner. However oral sex with someone who has a gential HSV II infection can also lead to blisters and sores around the mouth.
Both Herpes types are passed on through direct contact with an active herpes outbreak (blisters or sores). This contact be kissing, sexual or non-sexual.
Up to 60% of people who have herpes are unlikely to know they are infected as their symptoms will be minimal or non-existent. Despite this, people with a herpes infection remain capable of infecting partners through any physical contact when the virus is present. There may be virus present with no visible signs, this is known as asymptomatic viral shedding.
How is it transmitted?
Herpes is spread through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal contact (it does not have to be sexual intercourse) with an infected person. The risk of catching or transmitting the virus is heightened if your partner has blisters or sores. It is still possible to catch Herpes if your partner does not have any visible sores or blisters, though this is less likely.
Recurrent symptoms are almost always visible on the skin: sores inside the vagina or anus are usually only present as part of a primary infection, and are therefore unlikely to accompany a recurrence. HSV I, is often spread by kissing, which is why so many people carry this infection.
How will I know if I have it?
Herpes may cause blisters around the mouth and in the genital areas of both men and women. These blisters typically develop between two days and three weeks after first getting infected. The blisters start off as small bumps, developing into full blisters and eventually bursting, releasing their fluid. Blisters can be small or large, and may be just one blister, or a cluster located close together.
Other symptoms can include painful itching, burning, headache, swollen glands in the groin, and generalised muscle aches. The first episode, or outbreak, is usually the most severe with subsequent outbreaks becoming milder. Most people contract the virus without developing these symptoms.
Better2Know can test for the Herpes virus in three different ways in Africa depending on your symptoms and incubation periods:
- Blood test – which requires an incubation period of four to six weeks
- Urine test – which is available after any potential exposure
- Swab test – which is only suitable if you have symptoms
Results are available two to five working days from the sample being received at our laboratory, depending on which test you have chosen. Our comprehensive testing will state whether you have HSV I, HSV II, both infections or neither of the two.
Once contracted, Herpes will remain in your body forever, though only a minority of infected patients get recurrent painful outbreaks. Fortunately, there are ways to decrease both the frequency and the severity of Herpes outbreaks. Anti-viral medications are available (both creams and pills), which can help control the infection. In addition, certain lifestyle changes can also help control the frequency of outbreaks and their severity.
Herpes is a highly infectious virus and can be passed from person to person through any physical contact. Whilst a Herpes infection will not cause any serious adverse health consequences, it can be very uncomfortable, and physically draining. Once contracted, it will be with you for life.
Once you know you have a Herpes infection, you will be able to seek the appropriate advice or medication during outbreaks so that you can protect your partner and return to normal health faster.
If you or your partner is pregnant, it is wise to take some precautions in order to protect your baby. Most women who give birth while infected have carried the virus for some time. If you are pregnant and have a Herpes infection, please discuss this with your doctor and midwife.