Herpes: A Common but Misunderstood STI

Herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV:

  • HSV-1 is the most common type and usually causes cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth and lips. It can also cause genital herpes, but this is less common.
  • HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes. It can also cause cold sores, but this is less common.

Herpes is a lifelong infection. Once you have it, the virus stays in your body and can reactivate from time to time. This is called an outbreak. Outbreaks can be triggered by stress, illness, or hormonal changes.

The symptoms of herpes vary depending on the type of HSV and the location of the infection.

  • Cold sores usually start as a tingling or burning sensation. Then, a small, painful blister forms. The blister eventually breaks open and crusts over. Cold sores usually heal within a week.
  • Genital herpes can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
    • Painful blisters
    • Itching
    • Burning
    • Soreness
    • Swelling
    • Discharge
    • Fever
    • Headache

Genital herpes can be more serious than cold sores. It can cause complications, such as:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Infertility
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Neonatal herpes (in babies born to mothers with genital herpes)

There is no cure for herpes, but there are treatments that can help to manage the symptoms and prevent outbreaks.

The best way to prevent herpes is to avoid contact with the virus. This includes using condoms during sex and avoiding sharing personal items, such as towels and utensils.

If you think you may have herpes, it is important to see a doctor. They can diagnose the infection and recommend treatment options.

Here are some additional things to know about herpes:

  • Herpes is very common. About 67% of people under age 50 have HSV-1 and about 13% have HSV-2.
  • Herpes is not always symptomatic. Some people with herpes never have any symptoms.
  • Herpes can be spread even when there are no symptoms.
  • Herpes is not fatal. However, it can cause serious complications, such as PID and neonatal herpes.

If you have herpes, it is important to talk to your doctor about how to manage the infection and prevent the spread of the virus.

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