Herpes is a common virus that is spread during skin-to-skin contact, most often through vaginal, anal or oral sex. A person with herpes in their mouth can pass herpes to a partner’s mouth when kissing, or to the genitals of a sex partner during oral sex. You can get herpes from an infected sex partner, even if they do not have any visible sores.
Condoms and dental dams can help prevent the spread of herpes if they cover the infected area. Avoid having sex with someone who has an open herpes sore.
Many people with herpes do not have symptoms. When symptoms are present, they include outbreaks of painful blisters or sores that scab and heal without scars. Blisters or sores might be hidden in the vagina, rectum or mouth.
During an initial outbreak, you may also experience:
Your health care provider may swab or scrape a blister or sore to test for herpes. Health care providers can also test blood for herpes, but this is not a standard practice.
Some medications can shorten herpes outbreaks, relieve discomfort and make transmission less likely. Daily medication is also available to reduce the frequency of outbreaks. There is no cure for herpes.
If you are diagnosed with herpes, talk to your current sex partner(s) so they can be evaluated for herpes and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and treated appropriately.
Herpes can be passed on to your baby, especially during delivery. Herpes causes serious infections in newborns and can result in brain damage or death. Herpes is dangerous for babies when a pregnant parent gets infected late in pregnancy. If herpes sores are present during delivery, a cesarean section is recommended.
If you are pregnant and either you or your partner has herpes, be sure to tell your health care provider. You can take medicine to lower the risk of a herpes outbreak during delivery.