It’s no secret that the sexually transmitted infection, herpes, has been in the news a lot lately.
Mostly due to recent reports about Usher Raymond paying a woman $1.1 for transmitting herpes to her and a series of new lawsuits filed by women (and a man) who have alleged that the “Confessions” singer exposed her to the virus without disclosing.
But what’s also been swirling on the Internet are a lot of misinformation and myths about what herpes actually is, how its transmitted and what puts you at risk. So let us break it all down for you:
WHAT IS HERPES?
It’s a common viral infection causes by two different but, similar viruses: Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
BUT WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
According to Planned Parenthood, (HSV-1) usually causes oral herpes i.e. cold sores and (HSV-2) genital herpes. But keep in mind that it’s completely possible for both types of herpes to live in either part of the body.
For example, if someone has cold sore and then performs oral sex on you, there’s a chance that they could transmit HSV-1 to your vaginal or anal area. Or you can get HSV-2 orally if you’re receiving oral sex from someone who has genital herpes.
WHAT DOES HERPES LOOK LIKE?
The symptoms can vary depending on the person. Some people don’t have any obvious symptoms, while others do.
Web MD writes that symptoms can occur soon after a person is infected and tend to be severe. They could start as small blisters— on your buttocks, thighs, or rectal area—that eventually break open and form raw, painful sores that scab and heal within a few weeks. In addition to these signs, you may experience flu-like symptoms, a fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Other symptoms include:
- Itching or tingling around your genitals or your anal region
- Cracked, raw, or red areas around your genitals without pain, itching or tingling
- Pain from urine passing over the sores, especially in women
- Headaches and backaches
Sometimes, herpes can look like other health issues including vaginal yeast infections, bacterial infections, or even bladder infections. Yet the only way to be CLEAR that you have herpes is to have a doctor diagnosis you with a blood test and/or swabbing your sore.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you get screened if you’re only showing symptoms.
IT’S MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK
Herpes can happen to anyone, especially given just how common it is.
According to the CDC, more than half of Americans have oral herpes, and about 1 out of 6 Americans has genital herpes.
NOT EVERYONE KNOWS THAT THEY HAVE HERPES
As we wrote above, not everyone has severe symptoms, so they don’t know they are carriers. Experts estimate that up to 80 percent of people infected with herpes are unaware that they are infected.
HERPES USUALLY INCLUDES HAVING OUTBREAKS
When you have this infection it can show itself in the form of outbreaks, which can occur multiple times throughout the year. A person with genital herpes can have four to five outbreaks per year, while a person with oral usually has less than one a year.
IS IT CURABLE?
Unfortunately, it is not, but it is treatable. Antiviral medications such as Valtrex can prevent or shorten outbreaks.
HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
Planned Parenthood writes that herpes is easily spread from skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus. And here’s where we get graphic: A man does’t have to ejaculate in either your mouth, vagina or anus in order for you to get herpes. Remember it’s about skin-to-skin.
In addition: Herpes is most contagious when sores are open and wet, because fluid from herpes blisters easily spreads the virus. But herpes can also “shed” and get passed to others when there are no sores and your skin looks totally normal.
Also: Herpes IS NOT transmitted through blood. But a pregnant mother can pass it on to her newborn baby.
CONDOMS DON’T ALWAYS PROTECT YOU
While I’ve seen a lot of people making comments about how the lack of condom use is to blame for the spread of herpes, wrapping it up actually doesn’t provide 100 percent protection. Yes, it can reduce your risk and you should practice safer sex, but since herpes is based on skin-to-skin contact, using condoms aren’t always bullet proof.
BLACK FOLKS HAVE HIGHER RATES OF HERPES
This isn’t meant to scare you nor is this fake news, but like HIV and other STIs, African-Americans have disproportionately higher rates of herpes. A contested 2010 CDC study found that 48 percent of Black women tested positive for HSV-2. Also herpes can increase your risk of contracting HIV.
You can reduce your risk by practicing safer sex, having open and honest conversations with your sexual partner(s) or choosing to abstain from sex. The choice is yours.