Herpes is a very common skin disease caused by a virus. Herpes can affect the mouth (oral) and/or the area around the genitals, the penis, the vagina, the anus, and the upper thighs or buttocks. Genital herpes is common in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes.
Herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact and through vaginal, oral or anal sex. You can also get Herpes from touching the skin of an infected person, including kissing someone with a cold sore or touching any area infected with it. You can get herpes even if you can’t see it. It can be transmitted by kissing, and oral, anal and vaginal sex, even if a person has no noticeable symptoms.
What are the signs and symptoms? What can happen?
It can be hard to notice symptoms of herpes; many people don’t know they have it. Cold sores and fever blisters are examples of herpes in the mouth. Symptoms show up one to three weeks or longer after having sex.
Sometimes herpes symptoms are bumps, blisters, a rash or sores on the area around the penis, anus or vagina, buttocks or upper thighs. Some people may also have a fever, headaches and pain when urinating (peeing).
Is there a cure? How is it treated?
Herpes can’t be cured once the virus enters the body, but there are ways to treat herpes that can lower the number of herpes outbreaks. Herpes is usually not harmful, but it can make it easier to contract HIV if exposed.
If you have symptoms that you think might be herpes, you should go see a healthcare provider within two days after noticing symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, but are worried you were exposed to it, you can talk to your healthcare provider.
How can you prevent it?
There are many ways to reduce your risk. Remember that the only method that is 100% effective in preventing STDs is abstinence, but if you’re sexually active, the best way to avoid STDs is to use a latex condom correctly every time you have sex.
Latex condoms can provide protection during vaginal, anal, and oral sex on a penis. For protection against herpes during oral sex on a vagina, you can use a dental dam – a thin square of latex – between the mouth and the vulva.
Remember that since herpes is also spread by skin-to-skin contact, you can get herpes even if you don’t have any kind of vaginal, anal or oral sex.