Posts Tagged ‘HIV/STD Hotline’

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Herpes – What is it?

Part 1 of a 3 part series.

How do you talk to your sexual partners about STDs? How about STIs? And…. what is the difference between a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and a sexually transmitted infection (STI)? The American Social Health Association describes the distinction: the term disease “implies a clear medical problem, usually [with] some obvious signs or symptoms. But in truth several of the most common STDs have no signs or symptoms in the majority of persons infected. Or they have mild signs and symptoms that can be easily overlooked” and, so they should now be described as an infection.

One STI that is cloaked in mystery is herpes, but it doesn’t need to be. If you don’t have herpes, learning about it helps you avoid contracting it. If you do have herpes, understanding it helps you avoid transmitting it and helps you talk to your sexual partners about risk reduction. And sometimes, people can have herpes and not know it, so in the interest of safety, let’s talk herpes.

Herpes is a virus. It’s a virus that has two types. Herpes Simplex 1 (HSV-1)  and Herpes Simplex 2 (HSV-2). Both can cause blisters, sores, bumps or a rash to form. The difference between Herpes Simplex 1 and Herpes Simplex 2 is where the sores are generally located on the body. In the case of HSV-1, the sores are found on and around the mouth, and are called cold sores or fever blisters. HSV-2 generally causes sores on and around the genitals (penis, vagina and vulva), the anus, thigh, or buttocks. The genital infection is what people generally think of when they hear the word “herpes.” But both types of virus are technically “herpes.” There are also cases of HSV-2 infecting the mouth and  HSV-1 causing genital breakouts, but there is no way of knowing, without testing, which type is causing the breakout. However, generally, the two types prefer to infect their customary areas.

So, what is a virus? A virus, when contracted, invades a body’s cells and takes over those cells in order to replicate. Our bodies fight viruses with antibodies and can often suppress them so that the infected cells don’t replicate, but viruses don’t die off, and viruses can resurface. Also, viruses are often contagious without any symptoms and some spread very easily. Some viruses, like colds and plantar warts, don’t cause much alarm, as our bodies can generally suppress them in a reasonable amount of time. Other viruses, like HIV, can cause major health complications and may eventually cause death. Although people don’t die from herpes, and although herpes can be a manageable infection, it is important to understand how herpes is transmitted, herpes symptoms, and how doctors test for herpes in order to reduce the chance of transmission.

Herpes is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Over 60 million adults in the United States have herpes and a million new cases are diagnosed every year. An estimated 70 percent of people who have herpes don’t know when they contracted it and don’t know that they had an initial outbreak—or didn’t even have an initial outbreak.

like 70% of americans, michael scott gets cold sores (which are caused by the herpes virus)

Herpes is spread by skin to skin contact and can be spread even without signs of an outbreak. Generally, herpes is a manageable, non lethal virus, but it does come with increased risk of other sexually transmitted infections. A person with genital herpes has a much higher risk of acquiring HIV. And a person who has both HIV and herpes is more likely to transmit both infections.

Since herpes is so common, and generally misunderstood, we are going to dedicate three blog posts to it. This first one has given a general overview of what herpes is. It’s a virus that causes nonlethal outbreaks. It’s the most common STD and it’s spread by skin to skin contact. In the next couple of posts, we are going to go into more detail about the symptoms and transmission of herpes and the testing for and treatment of herpes.

In the meantime, if you have questions give us a call 800.777.2437 or chat with us online at oregonaidshotline.com

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