• Is a common sexually transmitted virus;
  • Can infect both the mouth and the genitals;
  • Two different kinds: HSV 1 and HSV 2, or more commonly, Type 1 or Type 2;
  •  Cannot be cured.

HSV 1 causes most mouth infections that people call “cold sores” or “fever blisters.” HSV 2 causes most genital herpes.
Both types can give you sores in either place and having one type does not mean that you cannot get the other.


Herpes passes by contact with an infected person’s sores OR from direct skin contact where there is no sore, but the virus is living on the skin. Because the virus can spread from skin-to-skin contact rather than simply contact with sexual fluids, it is easily passed during most types of sexual activity.
Condoms are helpful, but since they don’t cover the entire genital area you’re at risk for getting the virus anytime you have close, intimate, skin-to-skin contact with someone who’s infected. A pregnant woman can pass herpes to her baby during birth.
The virus can affect each person differently. People can have the most symptoms when they first get the virus. Many people, however, don’t have any signs or symptoms after exposure to genital herpes. When symptoms such as an outbreak of sores do occur, they usually appear 2 to 21 days after exposure and heal two to four weeks later.
The sores, which are fluid-filled, look like blisters and can appear on the lips, genitals, inner thighs or even the buttocks.
They are usually painful and can itch, burn or tingle. People who have one outbreak may have more outbreaks. Each additional outbreak, however, typically becomes less painful and sores heal faster. Most people have mild signs of infection that they think are other skin infections or insect bites.


Healthcare providers are able to test for herpes in different ways. The most common way is to take a blood sample to find out if a person has been exposed to the virus and is currently carrying it.
Since so many people do not notice or have the sores, blood tests can detect antibodies which indicate your body is trying to defend itself against a particular kind of infection. Because these antibodies develop at different times in different people, knowing the right time to test after potential exposure can be difficult.
When sores are present, healthcare providers prefer to test by taking a sample of the fluid from sores. The fluid is then sent to a lab to test for the virus.


There are medications your healthcare provider can prescribe that can reduce the number of outbreaks and make the sores heal faster. Also for those with symptomatic herpes infections, there are some daily, long-term use medicines that may also lower the risk of passing the virus to your sex partner(s).
However, herpes cannot be cured. A healthcare provider will decide what, if any, medication should be prescribed. If a partner is given treatment, do not assume you can take his or her medication.
There are some over-the-counter medications that claim to treat herpes. Before taking any of these medications, check with your healthcare provider as they may not be appropriate for you and may not be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Treatment for herpes depends on the strain and stage of the virus. Always follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations. In some cases, providers prescribe treatment because sores can become more painful and outbreaks become more frequent.
Before deciding not to take a prescribed medication, talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have, including the effects on your body, cost, etc.


First, if your healthcare provider recommends treatment, be sure to take all medication as prescribed. Additionally, there are further steps you should take once you are diagnosed with herpes.
  • Tell your partner(s) – the decision to engage in sexual acts must be a mutual one.  It is unfair to expose your partner(s) without giving them the chance to decide to continue sexual activity. Your partner(s) may also decide to get tested to find out if they are also infected with the virus;
  • Avoid sexual activity when you have sores or other symptoms of herpes;
  • If and when you decide to be involved in sexual activities, make sure you’re using safer sex choices. Using condoms correctly, 100% of the time you have sex is important regardless if you have any kind of infection. Even though condoms do not provide complete protection against herpes, you or your partner could still spread other STDs;
  • A woman who’s pregnant should make sure her healthcare provider knows if she has herpes.


The most effective way to avoid STDs, including herpes, is not to have sexual activity that involves sharing sexual fluids or involves intimate skin-to-skin contact. If you choose to have sex, there are several things you can do to lower the risk of getting or passing the infection:
  • Use latex condoms correctly every time you have sex (including oral, vaginal and anal). Click here for a demonstration on correct condom use. Remember that because condoms can’t cover the entire genital area, it’s still possible to be exposed and to expose others to the herpes virus;
  • Only have sexual contact with someone that you’re in a monogamous relationship with, who has been tested to ensure they are virus free;
  • If there are any signs of symptoms, avoid shared sexual contact and get medical care.