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8 Common STDs

From HIV to herpes, get the facts


What is it?

Herpes is a virus that affects the mouth, lips and tongue (oral herpes) or the penis, vulva, vagina, and anus (genital herpes). One strain of the virus, herpes simplex type 1, usually causes oral sores, while another strain — type 2 — usually causes genital sores. But either type of herpes virus can infect either area of the body.

What are the symptoms?

Oral herpes causes cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth.

Genital herpes may cause similar breakouts on the or near the genitalia. The symptoms can disappear after a few weeks and reappear weeks or months later. Often, there are no symptoms or mild symptoms that go unnoticed, such as headache, chills, and fever. More serious signs of infection include burning upon urination or itching and pain in the infected area.

How is it spread?

Oral and genital herpes are spread through physical contact, including kissing and vaginal and anal sex. The virus is most contagious when open sores are present but it can be spread at anytime. Since herpes can be asymptomatic for years, it’s often difficult to know who infected you with the disease.

How is it diagnosed?

A blood test can determine if you’re infected, even if no symptoms are present. If you have sores, your doctor may test fluids from the blisters to confirm a diagnosis.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for herpes. Medications help manage the infection and can speed up healing of herpes blisters and increase periods between breakouts, but the virus will remain in your body.

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