Is Herpes Really an STD?

Reviewed on 11/18/2021

Are Cold Sores Herpes?

Both genital herpes and oral herpes are considered STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and are transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Oral herpes is also transmitted from person to person from kissing, sharing a fork or knife, or other types of close contact.
Both genital herpes and oral herpes are considered STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and are transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Oral herpes is also transmitted from person to person from kissing, sharing a fork or knife, or other types of close contact.

Genital herpes is a viral infection that can cause blisters and open sores on the genitals caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

Oral herpes (also called cold sores or fever blisters) are painful blisters that form on or near the lips and inside the mouth that are usually caused by HSV-1.

  • Both genital herpes and oral herpes are considered STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), because both are passed from person to person during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. 
  • Oral herpes is also transmitted from person to person from kissing, sharing a fork or knife, or other types of close contact.
  • People who give oral sex to people with genital herpes can get cold sores on their mouth.
  • Herpes spreads more easily when a patient has blisters and open sores, though it is possible to spread the virus when no symptoms are present. 

What Does Herpes Look Like?

People with herpes may never have any symptoms, or symptoms are very mild, and they may not even be aware they have the virus. 

When symptoms of genital herpes occur, they may include:

  • Blisters in the genital area (vagina, penis, scrotum, anus, buttocks, or thighs)
  • Blisters may develop into painful open sores, which crust over as they heal
  • Blisters on the mouth or lips
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint pain 
  • Difficulty urinating

Symptoms of oral herpes (cold sores) may include: 

  • Painful blisters on the lips, mouth, nose, or throat, 
  • Blisters eventually open and form scabs
  • Mouth and throat pain
  • Neck swelling 
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • General ill feeling (malaise)

How Is Herpes Diagnosed?

Herpes is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination. Herpes may be diagnosed just by looking at the sores. 

Tests to look for herpes:

  • A sample of cells or fluid from a blister or sore is sent to a lab
  • A blood sample may be taken to check for herpes antibodies in patients who have no symptoms 
    • A herpes blood test cannot determine who gave you the infection or how long you have been infected

Is Herpes Curable?

There is no cure for herpes, but the virus tends to cause the most symptoms during the first few years. After that, while herpes does not go away entirely, it usually causes mild to no symptoms. 

When the virus is active, people can take medications to help reduce and prevent symptoms. Antiviral medicines may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of genital herpes or oral herpes and speed up the healing of an outbreak, such as:

Home remedies to help reduce the pain of genital herpes during an outbreak include:

  • Keep the genital area clean and dry
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to ease pain
  • Sit in a “Sitz bath” or a bathtub with warm, shallow water for about 20 minutes
    • Avoid bubble baths
  • Avoid tight clothing

For oral herpes (cold sores), treatment is usually needed the first time it occurs. People who have mild symptoms or who have had cold sores before may not need treatment.

If needed, treatment for oral herpes may include:

  • Antiviral topical ointments
    • Acyclovir (Zovirax ointment or cream)
    • Penciclovir (Denavir topical)
  • Pain-relieving pills and gels applied to the mouth, many of which are available over-the-counter (OTC)
  • Sucking on ice or popsicles

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Reviewed on 11/18/2021
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/genital-herpes-the-basics?search=herpes&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/cold-sores-oral-herpes-the-basics?search=herpes&source=search_result&selectedTitle=7~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=7

https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/default.htm