Learning you have herpes may be scary. After all, there is no cure. You may be wondering how the virus will affect your life, sexual health and relationships. The good news is: the more you know your body, the easier it will be to manage and treat the symptoms.
Herpes virus is common worldwide
It may not be much of a consolation but herpes is it’s good to know herpes is extremely common. Half of the world’s population has it! According to the World Health Organization, about 3.7 billion people under 50 have HSV-1 infection. Further 417 million people aged 15-49 (11%) have HSV-2 infection globally.
Many people are unaware of their infection because both oral herpes (known as cold sores) and genital herpes can give no symptoms. Unfortunately, it is possible to infect someone even if you don’t see an outbreak on your body.
How is herpes transmitted?
Why has herpes spread so far and wide? The answer is simple: it’s very easy to catch. All you need is some skin to skin contact with the affected area. You may also have the virus on your hands after touching the cold sores. Other common ways of transmitting herpes are: saliva, genital fluids and semen. Practicing safer sex helps reduce the risk but not completely.
If you have herpes, finding the right treatment and monitoring your symptoms is important for two reasons:
- You are able to spot the upcoming outbreak and take medication early enough to prevent the full onset of symptoms or shorten their duration.
- You can reduce the risk of infecting your sexual partner/s. When you know an outbreak is coming, you can abstain from sexual activity or use extra protection. To minimize the risk of infection you may (and probably should) take medication.
Knowing your herpes prodrome symptoms
Some people with herpes experience the so-called prodromal phase. It means their body is giving warning signs of an upcoming outbreak. Sometimes slight changes in your well-being can give you a hint that viral shedding takes place. This phase happens when the virus is present on the surface of the skin without the visible sores.
Every person is different so it’s important you keep track of your own symptoms. Look for itching, stinging or pain in the area where you usually get the sores.
Understanding your herpes triggers
If you’ve been living with herpes for some time, you may have realized that certain factors can trigger an outbreak. It’s good to track these to better understand how your body deals with the virus. Knowing what activates it may help you make lifestyle changes and reduce the number of outbreaks.
Typical herpes triggers include:
- poor diet,
- exposure to sunshine for a longer time
- steroidal medication.
Track your herpes symptoms
To understand your body better, try keeping a journal for your herpes symptoms and triggers. There is no one way to do it. If you prefer paper, you can add a special section in your planner. You can also print out a chart and hang it on the wall.
Some people prefer to track their symptoms on their mobile. You will find examples of health tracking apps here.
If you don’t want to install yet another app, check your existing ones. Many fitness and menstrual cycle trackers have customizable fields. It may be a matter of adding one or two herpes-related items to an app that you use anyway.
Find the herpes treatment that works for you
The key is to track regularly. Commit to doing it at least for a month and consult the results with your doctor. He or she will be able to propose the best treatment to match your health and lifestyle.
Currently there are many treatment options available for both cold sores and genital herpes. You can get creams and pills. There’s medication for daily use which can help you reduce the number of outbreaks. Other treatments are taken as needed to prevent or reduce the severity of an outbreak. Get updated on the available types of herpes medication in our Sexual Health section.
Anka Grzywacz is a sexologist, reproductive health expert and Certified Sex Coach™. In her online practice she helps busy women and couples solve their intimate problems.