Herpes is a rather common infection that plagues men and women, young and old alike. If you are in your mid to late teens or twenties, you are more prone to become infected by the herpes virus. This happens for a number of reasons. Regardless the factor that puts you more at risk for herpes between the ages of 15 and 29, it makes sense if you are in this age group to get tested for herpes and other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) as soon as possible.
Just because younger people are more inclined to contract herpes does not mean older adults should ignore the possibility that they may have the herpes virus within them. Whether you are 15 or 50, male or female, you have approximately a 2 in 3 chance of being infected by one of the two different strains of the herpes virus.
Herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2) are the two different kinds of herpes. HSV-1 is usually encountered on the lips and the mouth area. HSV-2 usually appears around the genitals, or the buttocks, anus and upper thigh areas. In some cases, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes, and HSV-2 can cause oral herpes. The reason why the two different strains of herpes appear where they do has everything to do with how the virus is transmitted.
Oral-to-Oral, Oral-to-Genital or Genital-to-Genital
Genital herpes is given its name because it is usually transmitted when someone's genitals come into contact with the genitals of an infected person. Genital-to-genital contact is the most common form of genital herpes, when someone has the herpes virus in or around their genital area, and they pass it to the genitals of another person.
In the case of oral sex, oral herpes can lead to genital herpes, or genital herpes can be passed to the oral region of a sex partner, causing oral herpes. Regardless of which herpes simplex is involved, initial symptoms are generally similar.
The first outbreak of oral or genital herpes will often be precluded by a tingling, burning, itching sensation. This can happen around the mouth, the genitals, the buttocks or the upper thighs. Soon afterward, one or more blisters will appear, often in a cluster. These blisters can be painful and can pop or break, releasing a thick pus-like liquid.
It is at this stage that herpes is the most contagious. Soon afterward, from a few days to a couple of weeks, symptoms will dissipate and eventually disappear. Sometimes, when the host has a healthy immune system, the herpes virus will become dormant and never awaken again. In many cases though, someone that experiences an outbreak of herpes will have one or more flareups in the future, sometimes several times a year.
Concerning oral and genital herpes, early detection leads to the most effective management of this infection. Regardless of your sexual practices, it makes sense to get tested for herpes and other STDs regularly, at least once every couple of years. Since complications can be extremely serious, and herpes can lead to low levels of self-esteem and social withdrawal, it pays to find out whether or not you are infected with this extremely common virus, so you can treat it properly before it spreads, and causes more emotional and physical damage.
Is It Herpes or Something Else – Conditions Confused with HSV
Both oral and genital herpes provide similar physical symptoms - blisters and sores, a red rash, and pain at the infection site. Unfortunately, these and other herpes symptoms can mirror non-herpes medical conditions, ailments and illnesses. Because of this, you may wonder if you have contracted herpes, or if another disease or health problem is at work.
Doctors familiar with herpes and the fact that it can produce symptoms common to other conditions can help you determine exactly what is going on. Before you consult a physician, which is always the right move when you don't understand what health hazard you have encountered, there are few questions you can ask yourself to help you narrow down the field of potential causes for your symptoms.
Are Your Symptoms Temporary or Permanent?
Do your signs of illness come and go? Do you experience a tingling sensation right before blisters appear, and then those blisters and other symptoms disappear after a short period of time? The herpes virus tends to last for anywhere from 3 to 14 days when genital herpes has been experienced. If you have a cold sore or another sign of oral herpes, a flareup usually has an 8 to 12 day duration. If your symptoms continue for longer than those periods of time, herpes may not be the issue.
Are Your Blisters Inside or Outside Your Mouth?
If you have blisters and sores appear on the outside of your mouth and around your lips, this could be a sign of the cold sores or so-called "fever blisters" which denote the presence of the herpes virus. If you experience similar sores and blisters on the inside of your mouth, these are probably canker sores. Canker sores are not symptomatic of herpes and will almost always heal themselves without treatment.
Do You Have a Cluster of Blisters, or Just a Few Which are Not Clustered?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can produce what looks to be the blisters associated with genital herpes. Syphilis responds very well to antibiotics, especially when the condition is treated as quickly as it is diagnosed. Genital herpes often produces groups of blisters, not the few spread-out, blister-like chancres which are telltale signs of syphilis.
Is There a Burning and Itching of the Vagina Accompanying Painful Urination or an Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
These are common signs of a yeast infection. A woman may experience an abnormal, thick, gray or white discharge, and may have pain during intercourse. Coupled with the symptoms above, this is usually sign of a bacterial or yeast infection, and not herpes. Men who get a yeast infection will often have no symptoms, but sometimes, a rash or burning sensation in the penis after sex is a sign of a yeast infection.
Remember that herpes can be detected through some simple lab tests. PCR blood tests and cell cultures can determine the presence of the herpes virus. If your symptoms have you confused as to whether or not you have herpes or some other health problem, it always makes sense to contact your doctor. If your doctor is new to testing for herpes, she can refer you to an urologist or dermatologist that can give you the answers you are looking for.