Herpes can be transmitted from oral sex, anal sex or vaginal sex. Using condoms can provide some protection, but not 100%. Some people may have the herpes virus and be able to “shed” the virus i.e. be infectious, but not know that they are. If you have blisters, there is a higher chance of infecting someone else with the virus.
Herpes Symptoms and Diagnosis
Herpes can be a difficult infection to diagnose, as it requires the presence of lesions (blisters) so that a PCR (dry) swab can be taken. If you have any sore itchy spots, it might be worth having a test for herpes. Herpes can affect any part of the body, though it commonly affects the mouth area and genitals. Herpes Simplex can be type 1 or type 2. Type 1 tends to be milder, but all forms of herpes can recur and cause repeated outbreaks. Sometimes a herpes infection causes no symptoms, and sometime the symptoms may only appear once. If your immune system gets depressed, the chances of herpes recurrence increases. If you have frequent recurrences of herpes infection, you may benefit from taking suppressive therapy for episodes of infection or continuously if your immune system is low. If your immune system is compromised, for example by chemotherapy or immune deficiency, it’s possible herpes can cause a serious internal infection.
Blood tests are not an accurate way of diagnosing herpes infection, and should not be interpreted in isolation. A swab taken of an active blister lesion which confirms the presence of the virus, is the gold standard for diagnosis. Like with any STI, if you test positive for herpes infection, we recommend you have a full screen. People who have herpes often feel ashamed, but there is no need to do so. Herpes is a common infection (more than one in ten Australians carry the virus) and the infection can be easily managed. If you have blisters around your mouth, genitals or anywhere else, or you suspect you may have been exposed to herpes, come and see us in our Chatswood, Sydney clinic for a screening and we can counsel you regarding risk, testing and treatment if required.
Currently in testing is vaccination against the herpes virus, but this is not yet available to help prevent this common infection.