What Is Herpes?
Herpes is a viral infection commonly characterised by the appearance of sores or blisters on the skin, usually on the lips, mouth, or genital area. These sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which remains in the body for life and causes periodic outbreaks. The herpes virus is highly contagious and can be spread through direct contact with an infected person's skin or body fluids.
What are the Types of Herpes?
There are two primary types of Herpes Simplex Virus: HSV-1, usually responsible for oral herpes, and HSV-2, which is commonly associated with genital herpes.
- Herpes Simplex Type 1 (HSV-1): The Herpes Simplex Type 1 (HSV-1) is primarily associated with infections of the mouth and lips, often resulting in cold sores or fever blisters. These outbreaks are typically seen around the lips but can also appear on the face or inside the mouth. HSV-1 is very common and can even be transmitted via non-sexual contact, such as kissing a family member with the virus or sharing eating utensils. While traditionally associated with oral herpes, HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes through oral-genital contact, though this is less common than genital HSV-2 infections.
- Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV-2): The Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV-2) is mainly responsible for genital herpes infections. This type of herpes is primarily transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. HSV-2 can cause blisters or sores on the genitals, rectum, or surrounding areas, as well as flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen lymph node. Like HSV-1, HSV-2 can also become dormant in the body and reactivate periodically.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Herpes?
Signs and symptoms of herpes can vary greatly from person to person. Some may experience severe symptoms, while others may have mild or no noticeable symptoms. The appearance of symptoms also depends on whether it is one’s first outbreak or a recurrent episode.
- First Episode: The initial herpes outbreak typically occurs within two weeks after exposure, and the symptoms can be more severe than subsequent outbreaks. During the first episode, individuals may experience multiple small blisters or sores around the infected site, which can be painful. These blisters eventually burst, leaving tender ulcers that may take weeks to heal. The first episode can also be accompanied by fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Some people might experience a burning sensation while urinating or abnormal vaginal discharge, especially in the case of genital herpes.
- Recurrent/Subsequent Episodes: After the first outbreak, the herpes virus lies dormant and may reactivate from time to time, leading to recurrent episodes. These subsequent outbreaks are generally milder and shorter in duration than the first episode. Symptoms of recurrent outbreaks might include a tingling, itching, or burning sensation before the appearance of sores. The frequency of these recurrences varies – some people may experience several outbreaks a year, while others might have only one or less.
- Oral Herpes: Oral herpes, primarily caused by HSV-1, manifests as cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth. These sores can be painful and are often preceded by a tingling or burning sensation on the lips or around the mouth. During an outbreak, individuals may also experience swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, and headaches.
- Genital Herpes: Genital herpes, typically caused by HSV-2, involves sores or blisters on or around the genital area, including the buttocks and inner thighs. These sores can be particularly painful during urination. Other symptoms include itching, pain during sex, and flu-like symptoms. Like oral herpes, individuals may feel itching or tingling in the area before the sores appear.
How to Test for Herpes
Herpes can be diagnosed by a doctor through a visual examination of any present sores or blisters on your body. In addition, they may take a swab sample from a blister or sore for further testing.
At-home tests for HSV (herpes simplex virus) are also available. However, they may not be as accurate as an in-person diagnostic test at a clinic. The doctor will either perform a swab test to collect a sample of fluid from the sores; or they may perform a blood test.
Where Can I Get Tested for Herpes?
If you suspect you have been exposed to the virus or are experiencing symptoms, getting tested as early as possible is essential.
You can get tested for herpes in Singapore at a sexual health clinic. At our STD clinic, we provide confidential and accurate herpes testing through blood tests and swab tests; as well as treatment and personal advice.
How is Herpes Treated?
There are various treatment options available to manage the symptoms associated with a herpes outbreak. They include:
- Antiviral Medications: These can help speed up the healing process, reduce the frequency of outbreaks, and lower the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
- Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers may help to ease symptoms.
- Topical Creams or Ointments: These can help soothe the affected area and speed up the healing of sores.
How to Prevent Herpes
You can lower your risk of contracting herpes by following these steps:
- Safe Sex: Using condoms correctly every time you have sex can reduce your risk of getting or spreading genital herpes.
- Avoid Sharing Personal Items: Refrain from sharing items that can pass the virus around, such as cups, towels, silverware, makeup, or lip balm.
- Avoid Direct Contact: Avoid kissing and skin-to-skin contact with people who have cold sores and blisters suggesting an ongoing herpes episode.
- Antiviral Medications: Antiviral medication can stop the herpes virus from multiplying (but does not clear the virus from the body). The exact dosage, frequency and duration will depend on each individual’s case.
Dr Tan Medical Center is a men’s health and sexual health clinic in Singapore focused on conducting screenings and providing treatments for herpes and a range of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Our dedicated team performs various diagnostic tests and offers appropriate treatment solutions for the best possible outcome.