Know the Risk

Having sex is a big responsibility. Any time you have sex you are at risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The more you know about STDs, the better you can protect yourself.

Click on the links below to learn detailed facts about STDs and how to keep yourself healthy.

Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV).
It can be transmitted through sex or close skin-to-skin touching.
Herpes causes small, blister-like sores (cold sores) around the mouth, genitals, and anus.
Herpes type 1 is usually causes sores around the mouth. Herpes type 2 is usually causes sores around the genitals or anus.
Genital herpes cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated.

What is it?

Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a virus (HSV type 1 and type 2). Herpes is passed from person to person from skin-to-skin contact during oral, anal and vaginal sex and close, skin to skin contact.

HSV 1 causes fever blisters and cold sores on the mouth. Since many people are having oral sex (mouth to vagina, mouth to anus or mouth to penis), HSV 1 is appearing on the genitals. HSV 2 is the virus that causes sores on the vagina, penis, anus and the skin around those areas.

Herpes is usually not dangerous on its own, but it can affect your sex life because of how the sores look. They can also cause pain. Also, open sores also make it easier to spread or get HIV. A person with a herpes sore is three to five times more likely to get infected with HIV. Also, people with HIV and herpes with an open sore are more likely to spread both viruses to someone during unprotected sex.

Women who are pregnant and have a herpes sores near the time they have their baby risk spreading the virus to their baby. This can be dangerous and even cause the baby to die (but this doesn't happen often).

How will I feel?

If the Herpes virus is in your system, it lives there forever. Sometimes the symptoms will show up and sometimes they won't. Some people won't have any symptoms at all. The first time you see the herpes sores is usually the worst. It lasts the longest, and can hurt a lot. The first sores can last five to ten days, first "weeping" by making fluid, then scabbing over, and then healing. In addition to these blisters or open sores, people can have swollen glands, fever and body aches. Symptoms on girls are usually worse than the symptoms on boys.

Any outbreak after the first can be brought on by many things including stress, tiredness, lack of sleep, starting your period, and genital rubbing. You may feel a tingling or itching between the times you have the sores and just before the sores show up on your skin. If you start feeling these things, you can get ready by not having sex or having your genitals touch someone else's, and seeing your doctor. During the first year after you get herpes, it is more likely that the blisters will come back again. Herpes can appear in a different place each time. Sometimes the sores are so mild, people mistake them for jock itch, razor burns or insect bites. Some doctors can look at a sore and tell that you have herpes right away. However, there are tests that can give you a definite answer. A viral culture test can tell if herpes is present and which type of the virus it is. This test works best if done during the first outbreak when blisters are present because they use fluid from an open sore. New blood tests are also available to tell which herpes virus you have.

What if I'm positive?

Right now there isn't a cure for herpes. There are medications available that treat herpes and can help speed up the healing process of an outbreak and, if taken every day, reduce the number of future outbreaks. One medicine, Valtrex, when taken every day, can help reduce the risk of passing herpes to others. There are also ways to reduce outbreaks without taking pills. Keep your stress levels low, eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest. Condoms give some, but not total protection from herpes. If you or your partner has herpes, you should not have sex when sores are present. This includes genital herpes or oral herpes. The virus can be spread from BOTH places!

Not having sex is the only way to be sure you won't be infected with herpes. If you are having sex, use condoms correctly every time you have oral, anal, and vaginal sex to make sure you stay STD free. The risk for Herpes is connected to the number of sex partners you have: the more sex partners, the greater the risk! Get STD check-ups every three to six months (that means at least twice a year, up to four times a year) to make sure viruses like Herpes are caught early and treated quickly.