What is herpes?

Herpes (herpes simplex) is a very common and highly infectious virus which has two types:

  • Herpes Simplex 1 (HSV 1) – The most likely cause of cold sores, typically around the mouth. This virus can also be caught genitally through oral sex.
  • Herpes Simplex 2 (HSV 2) – The virus that typically causes sores around the genitals. It may also be caught around the mouth through oral sex.

Herpes Simplex 1 or cold sores should really not be considered an STI as infection can occur in so many non-sexual ways – although it is responsible for about half of “genital herpes” cases. Herpes Simplex 2, or Genital Herpes, is typically caught on the genitals and is transmitted through sexual contact. Up to 60% of people who have Genital HSV are unlikely to know they are infected as their herpes symptoms will be minimal or non-existent. They are capable of infecting partners through sex when the virus is present on the genitals, causing pimples, little cuts, itchy or sore skin. Occasionally, there may be virus present with no visible sign. Herpes can cause complications during pregnancy and labor which can be managed by your doctor or midwife. There is an increased chance of recurrent symptoms during pregnancy. These will not harm your baby but do mean that some women who have previously been asymptomatic may notice symptoms for the first time whist pregnant.

Herpes should be tested for as part of your STD screening programme, if you think you currently have a herpes blister or cold sore, you should have a swab taken of the blister or do a herpes urine STD test. If you do not currently have a herpes blister then you should do a blood STD test. Your STD test for herpes with Better2Know will tell you which type of herpes you have.

How is herpes treated?

Like several other infections, once it is caught, Herpes Simplex (HSV 1 and HSV 2) stays in the body and a minority of those infected get recurrent outbreaks. Fortunately, there are ways to decrease the frequency and severity of the outbreaks. There are anti-viral medications available (both creams and pills) which can help control the infection. In addition, there are lifestyle changes which can also help control the time between outbreaks and their severity. All the Better2Know clinics can provide you with a prescription for medication and provide advice on lifestyle changes to help you control the infection if you test positive.

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