What is herpes?
Herpes is an infection of the skin around your mouth, penis, vagina or anus. It is caused by a virus. It is one of the most common STIs and the most common cause of genital ulcers (sores on the penis or vagina) in South Africa. Some studies have shown that 50% of women in South Africa have herpes.
How is herpes spread?
Once you have herpes, the virus is always in your body, so it can pass to others when you have oral, vaginal, or anal sex through the exchange of body fluids, especially if you have a sore at the time. Any skin-to-skin contact with infected areas can pass along herpes (if the virus is active on the skin outside of the area protected by a condom), even if the person who has herpes doesn’t have any visible sores or other symptoms.
What does herpes look like?
If you have herpes, you may not experience any symptoms at all and you may not know that you have it. But many people who have herpes get painful blisters or sores on their lips, inside the mouth, or on the vagina, penis or anus. It can also cause a fever, headache, painful joints and trouble urinating.
How do I test for herpes?
In South Africa, there is no routine test for herpes. It is diagnosed based on your physical complaint or signs and symptoms. If you go to a private doctor or clinic, the healthcare provider will test you by either taking a sample of fluid from the sore and sending it to the lab or by doing a blood test to see if you’ve been exposed to herpes previously.
Can herpes be cured?
Herpes cannot be cured. But the disease usually causes the most problems during the first few years of infection. After that, the virus is still there, but it causes few to no symptoms. Even when the virus is active, people with herpes can take medicines to reduce and help prevent symptoms.
How is herpes treated?
Your local healthcare provider can prescribe different medicines to help reduce symptoms and speed up the healing of an outbreak. These medicines work best when people start them soon after an ulcer or sore starts.
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Herpes and pregnancy
If you are pregnant or planning to fall pregnant and have herpes, talk with a healthcare provider. It is possible for a baby to get herpes from its mother during birth, especially if the mother’s first ulcer or infection starts near the time of delivery. Your doctor will tell you how best to avoid this.