With more than 3 million cases reported annually, herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted viruses in the U.S. More than half of people living in the U.S. have oral herpes, and about one in six have genital herpes. Though there are two different strains of the herpes virus, the distinction between oral and genital herpes comes from where symptoms related to the herpes are located and not which virus the infected person has. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) tends to cause oral herpes, and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) tends to cause genital herpes, but contracting either virus will cause the infection of the area involved in contact. For example, you could contract HSV-1 in the form of genital herpes by receiving oral sex from someone with HSV-1. For the same reason, it’s also possible to contract both strains of the virus. Depending on the point of contact, either strain can cause sores to appear on or around your vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, penis, scrotum, butt, inner thighs, lips, mouth, throat and eyes.
Herpes is designated by periodic outbreaks of sores around the infected area. Repeat outbreaks are common, especially during the first year of contracting herpes. The very first outbreak is typically the worst, while repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less painful. Antiviral medication can help lessen the severity and duration of the outbreaks, as well as help prevent passing the virus to others. While the medication can make life with herpes easier, there is currently no cure for the virus, and the virus will stay in the body of an infected person for life. Typically, herpes does not cause any other serious health issues, but people infected with herpes are twice as likely to contract HIV compared to those who do not have herpes. People infected with both herpes and HIV are much more likely to pass HIV to their partner, and HIV can cause herpes outbreaks to be more painful and last longer than in those without HIV.
How is Herpes Transmitted?
Oral herpes, typically associated with the HSV-1 virus, is the most commonly transmitted strain of the herpes virus because it is so easy to transmit from one person to another. Oral herpes can be transmitted through contact as simple as a quick kiss. Many people who have oral herpes, in fact, were passed the virus at a young age after receiving a kiss from a parent or family member.
Genital herpes, most commonly associated with the HSV-2 strain of the virus, is most commonly passed through oral, vaginal, anal or other kinds of sexual contact. However, it’s important to note that these kinds of sexual activity do not necessarily need to transpire in order for transmission of the virus to occur, but sexual activity does increase the risks associated with transmission of the virus.
The virus is at its most contagious during an active outbreak in which open sores are present. However, the virus can still be passed when the carrier is not experiencing any symptoms of a herpes outbreak.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot contract herpes through hugging, sneezing, coughing, holding hands, or toilet seats.
Why Should I Order a Herpes Test?
If you are sexually active, it’s a good idea to be tested for herpes, even if you think you don’t have symptoms or haven’t had an outbreak. The virus is incredibly common and easily passed to others. It’s not unusual for herpes to be asymptomatic for years at a time, and the virus can spread even if the infected person is not experiencing symptoms or currently going through an outbreak.
What Are the Symptoms of Herpes?
Herpes symptoms are most commonly identified as sores around your genital area or mouth. However, herpes is also sometimes asymptomatic, or symptoms are too mild to be noticed or can be confused for other things, such as pimples, ingrown hairs or the flu. Genital herpes symptoms often begin with itchy or painful blisters on your vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, butt, anus or the inside of your thighs. These blisters typically break and turn into sores. Symptoms can also include:
- A burning sensation when urine comes into contact with sores
- Difficulty urinating
- Pain around genitals
- Swollen glands around pelvic area, throat or underarms
- Feeling achy
Symptoms of oral herpes usually are less painful and involve sores on your lips or around your mouth, usually referred to as cold sores or fever blisters. Occasionally, sores will form on the inside of the mouth, but typically only during the first few outbreaks.
How Long Should I Wait Before Getting Tested?
The incubation period for herpes is typically three to seven days. If you have contracted herpes, the first outbreak can appear within two to 20 days. If you believe you have been exposed to herpes, you should get tested after the incubation period has ended. If you don’t believe you have contracted herpes from a specific encounter and haven’t had an outbreak, but would still like to get tested, you can get tested whenever you would like. If you experience any herpes symptoms, you should get tested as soon as possible.
What Are the Benefits of a Herpes Test?
You can’t know for sure whether you have herpes unless you get tested. Even if you are experiencing herpes-like symptoms, it’s still possible that the cause is another STD or infection, which will most often require different treatment. The only way to know for sure if you have herpes and can begin treatment is to get tested.
With Priority STD Testing, you can schedule herpes testing the moment you decide to get tested by ordering online. If you’d like to schedule herpes testing over the phone, our care counselors are available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST. When ordering over the phone, our care counselors can set up an appointment for you at a local clinic as well as answer any questions you may have, including whether standard herpes IgG testing or early detection (IgM) testing is right for you.
At Priority STD Testing, we strive to make regular STD testing affordable, especially for individuals without insurance. We do not accept any form of private or federal health insurance, with the exception of allowing the use of health savings account (HSA) cards for payment. We do this so that your test results are not communicated to your insurance company and are not included as part of your medical record.
Peace of Mind
The sooner you know you have herpes, the sooner you can begin treatment and begin informing your partners, past and present, of your condition. Herpes is very common and also very manageable with medication. Getting tested will give you the peace of mind of knowing whether or not you have contracted the herpes virus and can begin treatment.
What Can I Expect from Herpes Treatment?
While there is no cure for either strain of the herpes virus, there is still treatment available, and plenty of people who have herpes are able to live normal, healthy lifestyles. If you have herpes, your doctor can prescribe you medications that will help prevent or lessen the duration and severity of outbreaks, which greatly reduce your chance of displaying symptoms associated with the viruses.
Despite how common herpes is, there is a negative stigma associated with the virus and those who have it, just like there is with most STDs. This can cause people who have herpes a great deal of stress and anxiety. If you do contract herpes and test positive for either virus, you may want to seek out resources for your mental health in addition to antiviral treatment from your doctor. This could be in the form of one-on-one treatment with a medical professional, or seeking out others in your community who live with herpes. Living with the virus can be an adjustment at first, so it’s good to reach out to others who have lived with the virus longer for some perspective on life with the virus.
Herpes and Other STDs
While the herpes virus does not always occur with another STD, there are correlations between herpes infection and the infection of other STDs. This is in part because of the sores that result during a herpes outbreak, or as symptoms of another STD. These open sores can increase the risk of contracting an additional disease or infection by adding additional access points for the infection to enter the body. For example, people who have herpes are twice as likely to get HIV compared to people who do not have herpes. Additionally, people who have herpes and HIV are much more likely to pass HIV to their partners. It’s important to be aware of these risks, whether they are applicable to you or a partner, especially during active herpes outbreaks.
How Do I Order a Herpes Test?
Ordering herpes testing through Priority STD Testing is easy and can be done either online or by phone. You can call any time Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST, and our care counselors are ready to schedule your testing appointment and answer any questions you might have. Our online ordering system is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.Get Tested Now