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Genital Herpes Overview

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What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is an STD contracted from either the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus. Genital herpes cases are predominantly caused by the HSV-2 virus, but HSV-1 cases are growing steadily due to oral sex. When symptoms appear, genital herpes presents itself as sores or lesions on the genitals, anus or upper thighs. To date, there are no statistics regarding how many Americans have genital herpes, only statistics on how many have HSV-2. This is because the blood tests that detect HSV-1 and HSV-2 are not able to tell you where on the body the virus is residing (orally or genitally).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 776,000 people in the U.S. are infected annually with HSV-2, but they are not certain how many of these cases are oral herpes or genital herpes.

Genital herpes symptoms usually appear 2-12 days after exposure to the virus and emerge as vesicles (or blisters) in the genital area or rectum.

How is genital herpes transmitted?

Genital herpes can be contracted from infected bodily fluids, including semen, vaginal fluid, saliva or herpes lesions, sores or blister fluid. Genital herpes is transmitted through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex, or from skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner. Chances of transmitting genital herpes (whether HSV-1 or HSV-2) increase if there are open, active sores or lesions present. It is possible to contract genital herpes even if your partner does not show symptoms.

Genital herpes can only be prevented by abstaining from sexual activities. Latex or polyurethane condoms can help lower the risk of transmission for those who are sexually active, but because condoms do not cover all of the area that may be infected, genital HSV-1 and HSV-2 can still be contracted while using a condom.

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

Symptoms of genital herpes include vesicles, sores, lesions, blisters, painful ulcers, itching and/or burning in the genital area, anus or upper thighs. Approximately two-thirds of people with genital herpes do not experience symptoms or have symptoms that are so mild they are confused with other skin conditions. In instances where symptoms are not present, genital herpes can still be transmitted. Our doctors recommend getting tested for both herpes type 1 and herpes type 2 to learn your status.

How do I get tested for genital herpes?

STDcheck.com offers a type-specific blood tests for both herpes type 1 and herpes type 2. These tests look for antibodies to HSV-1 and HSV-2 in your blood. Although HSV-2, the virus that most commonly causes genital herpes, can be detected as early as 3 weeks after possible exposure, our doctors recommend waiting 4-6 weeks before getting tested. After 3 months post-exposure to the virus, getting tested again is advised to eliminate the possibility of a recurrent infection. We test for Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) in the blood using the Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test. This type-specific HSV-1 blood test looks for antibodies to the HSV-1 virus in the bloodstream. This test is highly sensitive and will only detect the presence of HSV-1 antibodies. Since 20% of oral herpes cases are caused by the HSV-2 virus, we recommend ordering both the HSV-1 test and HSV-2 test.

To begin, simply order the herpes tests (HSV-1 test and HSV-2 test), then visit any of our 4,500+ test centers. A small sample of your blood will be collected for testing and you will receive an email with your results in 1-2 days. Your results will read as either positive (HSV-1 and/or HSV-2 was found in your blood) or negative (no HSV-1 and/or HSV-2 virus was found in your blood).

What should I know about the herpes tests?

Herpes type 1 antibodies have a development period of 2 weeks to 6 months after initial infection. This is the time it takes for enough antibodies to develop that can be detected through the ELISA test. This period varies from person to person.

Herpes type 2 antibodies have a development period of 3 weeks to 6 months after initial infection. This is the time it takes for enough antibodies to develop that can be detected through the ELISA test. This period varies from person to person

Is there a cure for genital herpes?

No, genital herpes, whether caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 is not a curable sexually transmitted disease. However, antiviral medication is available to help prevent and control symptoms of outbreaks.

What if I don't get treated for genital herpes?

Some herpes viruses can cause meningitis or encephalitis. HSV encephalitis is mainly caused by HSV-1, whereas meningitis is more often caused by HSV-2. Herpes viruses have been linked to Recurrent Lymphocytic Meningitis (Mollaret’s meningitis), which is characterized by sudden attacks of meningitis symptoms that last for 2-7 days and are separated by symptom-free (latent) intervals lasting for weeks, months or years.

Genital herpes and pregnancy

Genital herpes can be very dangerous to an infant during childbirth. If the mother has an active infection (whether or not symptoms are present), the baby can contract the virus. If the baby contracts the virus during birth, it can affect the skin, eyes, mouth, central nervous system, and/or even spread to internal organs via disseminated disease which can cause organ failure and lead to death. Disseminated diseases that result can include hepatitis, pneumonitis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, or a combination, with or without encephalitis or skin disease.