A woman of East Asian descent, wondering quietly to herself.

QUIZ: How Do I Know If I Have Herpes?

Herpes is a very common STD, and it’s possible to have contracted the virus and not exhibit any herpes symptoms. So how do you know if you have herpes? Before we answer that question, let’s first answer some common questions about herpes.

What is herpes?

Herpes is a common viral infection that is often sexually transmitted, but not always. Herpes is caused by two different viruses that can cause sores to form around your genitals or mouth. Because of this, the two viruses are often associated with the site of outbreak and referred to as genital herpes and oral herpes, though both strains of the virus can cause symptoms in either location. Herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact, especially in sexual situations. You can contract the virus when your genitals and/or mouth come into contact with an infected person’s genitals and/or mouth. The virus cannot survive for long outside of the body, so you cannot get herpes from a toilet seat, bedding or other objects.

As we mentioned above, herpes is extremely common. It’s estimated that roughly one in six people in the U.S. is living with genital herpes and two in three people are living with oral herpes. Part of the reason oral herpes is so common is because it can be transmitted so easily. Many people living with oral herpes contracted the virus through a kiss from a parent or loved one when they were younger.

How do I know if I have herpes symptoms?

Most commonly, herpes will not exhibit symptoms at all, and you won’t be able to tell if you have herpes. The most common symptom that does present is what’s usually referred to as an “outbreak.” These outbreaks are sores or blisters that develop on or around the mouth or genitals. Typically, the first outbreak will occur within the first few months of contracting the virus. Outbreaks tend to recur, though they typically grow to be less frequent and less painful, especially with the help of available antiviral medications. However, the first outbreak doesn’t always occur soon after being infected, and some people can go years without ever having an outbreak or any symptoms. That’s why frequent testing and being honest with your partner(s) is so important.

Here are a few other symptoms of herpes you might exhibit:

– fever
– headache
– tiredness
– body aches
– swollen lymph nodes
– vaginal discharge
– vaginal itch
– painful urination
– sores, blisters, or ulcers on anus, butt, or thighs
– trouble urinating
– meningitis
– encephalitis
– eczema
– eye infections

While all of the above symptoms can mean you have herpes, they could also mean you have another STD or virus, so you can’t diagnose herpes based on symptoms alone. You can learn more about herpes symptoms elsewhere on our site.

So, how do I know if I have herpes?

Regardless of what the common symptoms may be and whether you experience them, you can’t tell if you have herpes based on the way you look or feel. The only way to know for sure if you have herpes is to get tested and get tested often. Always know your status, the status of your partners, and practice safer sex.