Health & Wellness

Your Guide to Herpes: The Causes and How to Diagnose It

If you’ve recently learned that you’ve contracted some form of herpes, you’ll likely have a lot of questions. Most people only realize that they’ve contracted the infection when symptoms start to show, meaning you already have the virus. If this is the case, then take the time to understand what herpes is and the best way to manage it.

What’s herpes?

Herpes is the name given to two related but slightly different strains of the same virus. The first thing to be aware of is that herpes is common.

Over 50% of the American population have oral herpes, and around 15% have the genital version. This means you most likely know at least one person with the infection who’s living a perfectly normal life. The two distinct types of herpes are oral and genital herpes.

Oral herpes is caused by HSV-1 (Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1), and genital herpes comes from HSV-2 (Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2).

HSV-1 is most commonly associated with cold sores that appear around the mouth, and more rarely, around the genitals and buttocks.

HSV-2 is what most people associate with the name herpes and creates sores around the genitals exclusively. This is less common than HSV-2. But still affects a lot of people and is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) we know.

How’s herpes spread?

Herpes spreads through the virus making contact with sensitive and less protected parts of the body. The most common way of spreading HSV-2 herpes is through vaginal, oral, and anal sex, as well as through kissing.

The easiest way for the virus to spread from one person to another is through the sores it causes, but it can also be spread if the infected person doesn’t have any sores at the time. 

Herpes is a virus, meaning it can’t be cured. There are ways to help control the symptoms through anti-viral medication like what’s found at

Even though there’s no known cure for herpes, it can be managed, and while the symptoms can be painful, it doesn’t have any long-term debilitating effects. People that have the infection can have a partner and have sex just fine, as long as certain precautions are taken.

How does oral and genital herpes differ?

The difference between the two types of herpes relates directly to the body part that it manifests on. Genital herpes is when HSV-1 or HSV-2 appears on and around your genitals. While genital herpes is when either strain appears around the mouth.

Both strains can appear in either area, but HSV-1 generally prefers the mouth, while HSV-2 prefers the genital area. HSV-1 can cause sores around the genitals if someone with a cold sore around their mouth gives oral sex to someone, for example. This would pass the virus to that person’s genitals.

How do you get herpes?

Herpes is spread most commonly through the skin and is most easily transferred through sensitive areas of the body like the genitals, mouth, or eyes. For this reason, sexual intercourse is the most common way that herpes spreads.

Herpes is also far more easily spread when someone has open sores. These sores are filled with bodily fluid with the virus in it. This means that the virus could be spread by someone with an open wound touching it and then touching another person’s eye, for example.

Herpes can also be spread when someone doesn’t have any symptoms, though. This is one of the reasons why it has become one of the most common viruses that infect people. If you have sex with someone that has herpes but isn’t showing any symptoms, you can still catch it.

The virus can’t live long outside of the body, though, which is why holding hands or sitting on toilet seats won’t transfer the virus.

What are the symptoms of herpes?

Genital herpes is most commonly recognized by the sores that develop around the genitals, which can extend to around the inner thighs and the buttocks. The symptoms usually start with itching where the sores will eventually form. Small blisters will appear, which may contain fluid that’s clear or cloudy.

These blisters eventually burst to form open sores, which will eventually heal. You may also experience pain when urinating, itching, and pain around your genitals, as well as feelings that are similar to flu-like fever, headache, and muscle soreness. 

The first time that these symptoms appear is called primary herpes and can start from a couple of days to a couple of weeks after becoming infected. Primary herpes often leads to more severe symptoms than recurring outbreaks and can last between 2-4 weeks.

Once the initial outbreak subsides, you may get additional outbreaks periodically, and on average, someone with genital herpes can get 2-5 outbreaks each year.

Over time, these outbreaks become less frequent and less severe as the body learns to better deal with it. Medication can also help to lessen the severity of the symptoms, making it easier to deal with.

What are the symptoms of oral herpes?

Oral herpes is generally less severe than genital herpes. The most common symptom is sores around the mouth, often referred to as cold sores. These can last from a week to two weeks and will eventually disappear on their own. Oral herpes doesn’t come with the added symptoms of feeling run-down and feeling like you have the flu that genital herpes gives.

How to find out if you have herpes

If you’re showing some of the symptoms of herpes but aren’t sure, then you need to take a test. Your doctors can do this, and you can also get tests online to examine yourself.

Any symptoms around the genitals should be checked by a medical professional, though. As it may be that you have another or a more severe sexually transmitted disease. By getting diagnosed, you’ll be able to make sure that you get the correct treatment for your situation.


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