Common questions about genital herpes:
- What are the symptoms of genital herpes? For some, a cluster of blisters forms on the genitals; others may never get any physical symptoms but could still put their sexual partners at risk of getting herpes. Some people claim to feel a “tingling” on the genitals before a herpes outbreak that signals that the virus is preparing to surface. Some feel a tingling in their calf, thigh, buttocks or lower back regions because the virus uses the nerve ganglia as its method of travel from the base of the spine (where it hibernates) to the skin (see herpes prodrome symptoms).
- How can I spread herpes? Herpes can only be spread when the contagious area comes into direct skin-to-skin contact with a mucous membrane or a break in the skin. In many instances, the location of the herpes outbreaks will stay in the same area time after time, so if that location is covered by a barrier, the chances of spreading the virus are much less. However, some people’s herpes locations are in areas that a condom cannot cover or outbreaks happen in different areas.
- Can I spread herpes even when I’m not having a herpes outbreak? Physical signs of herpes don’t have to be present in order for to pass the virus to your partner. This is known as “viral shedding,” when the virus is silently active, which occurs 5-10% of the time. You can never know for sure when shedding is occurring due to its asymptomatic nature, although you can still pay attention to your prodrome symptoms to be aware of whether an outbreak is about to happen.
- I’m not really sure if I have herpes. How can I know for sure? There is a definitive herpes test called the Western Blot (the gold standard) that looks for antibodies in the blood that would be present to specifically combat the herpes virus. This test is very thorough and can tell you which type of herpes you have, whether HSV1 or HSV2 (either can show up on either the lips or genitals, but 1 prefers oral and 2 prefers genitals).