Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses HSV-1 and HSV-2.1,2 It’s a chronic condition that first shows up on your skin, but can eventually spread to your mouth, anus, genitals, and even your eyes.3
The herpes virus tends to remain dormant4 in your body once you’re infected with it. Sadly, the virus may be reactivated, and could lead to another herpes outbreak.
Herpes outbreaks usually occur four to five times in the first two years after your first infection. However, the frequency becomes less active and the pain less severe after every outbreak.5
The body parts most affected by herpes are the oral or genital areas, or both. The HSV-1 virus is responsible for oral herpes, or herpes around your mouth, while the HSV-2 virus causes genital herpes, or herpes on or near your sex organs.6
Red and swollen skin, followed by the formation of small red bumps, is a hallmark of the early of stages of herpes. Afterwards, these bumps turn into blisters or painful sores called lesions, which open and scab over, but heal after a week.7,8 Flu-like symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes and headache can arise if you have herpes.9
How Is Herpes Spread?
Be warned — herpes is a highly contagious disease, and it’s transmitted from one person to another via unprotected vaginal or anal sex. You may also get the herpes virus via sharing of infected sex toys, having oral sex with a person who has cold sores, and/or touching the genitals of an infected person.10
Contact with an infected person’s lesions, mucosal surfaces or genital or oral secretions is another method that leads to the spread of the herpes virus. Meanwhile, the HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses can also be shed from normal-looking skin.11
You can get herpes when you kiss a partner, relative or friend who has oral herpes. Some cases of herpes, especially for the HSV-1 virus, may come from non-sexual contact, even developing during childhood.
However, you can’t be infected with herpes if you touch a working surface, washbasin or use a towel that was used or touched by someone with the disease.12
Herpes outbreaks usually last two to 20 days after you initially get the virus. The first outbreak is usually the worst and most painful, although as mentioned earlier, succeeding outbreaks are less devastating. After two to three weeks, the sores will heal.13,14