Herpes is an infection caused by a virus that can cause blisters or sores known as genital herpes.
Any skin-to-skin touching with infected areas can pass along herpes, even if the person who has herpes doesn’t have any visible sores or other symptoms. Once you have herpes, the virus is always in your body, so it can pass by oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Oral herpes, an infection of the lips, mouth or gums that causes blisters, can be spread from the mouth to the genital area during oral sex. And just as oral herpes can infect the genitals and cause genital herpes, genital herpes can pass from one person’s genitals to another person’s mouth, causing oral herpes.
Some people have no symptoms at all. But many people who have herpes get blisters or sores on their lips, inside the mouth, or on or inside the vagina, penis, thighs, or buttocks. These blisters or sores are different for everyone – some people only get them once; other people have “outbreaks” many times over their lifetime.
If you have sores or blisters that you feel may be herpes, have your medical provider look at them. They may decide to take a sample from them by swabbing the open sore with a cotton swab. If you don’t have symptoms your provider can opt to take a sample of blood to test for herpes, although the results are not always definite.
Once you have herpes, you have the virus for the rest of your life. But there are medicines that help the sores heal more quickly and they can decrease your partners’ risk of contracting herpes from you if you take the medicine every day. These medicines can also make the outbreaks less frequent and less uncomfortable.
If a person is having an outbreak (open sores or blisters), the safest option is abstinence from sex. But remember, herpes can still be contagious, even before the open sore is visible. So using a condom is the best way to prevent infection.