Herpes: What I Wish I Knew

Before I got herpes, I knew almost nothing about it. When I got it, I didn’t even know I had it for the first few months. Once I knew it was herpes, I was too embarrassed to seek help or advice. By the time I finally got treatment, I had already endured the worst of it.

If you have or think you have herpes, this is what you need to know.

The Basics

The term "herpes" is short for herpes simplex virus, or HSV. There are two types of HSV: HSV type 1 (HSV-1) and HSV type 2 (HSV-2). Typically, HSV-1 is associated with oral herpes while HSV-2 is associated with genital herpes (in this article I am referring to both types inclusively). Herpes, for the most part, remains dormant in the body. When it is not dormant, an episode called an “outbreak” occurs. This is when any open sores or lesions are present. Typically, outbreaks last 1–2 weeks, decrease in severity over time (the initial outbreak being the worst), and are when you are the most likely to spread herpes to others.

Whew! Now that that’s out of the way...

It's NOT a Big Deal, Seriously

I know, you probably feel dirty or gross about having herpes. Let me be the one to tell you: you're not. You are also not alone—herpes is actually quite a common virus. Of Americans ages 14–19, 1 in 2 has HSV-1 and 1 in 8 has HSV-2. 

Fortunately, herpes is not a dangerous infection for the average healthy person. Herpes doesn’t affect the immune system and for the most part, people who have it show little or no symptoms. It's really more of an inconvenience than anything. So take a deep breath and keep your head high! You are still beautiful and you are still you

See a Doc ASAP

If you are experiencing symptoms, this is not the time to “tough it out!” Home remedies and OTC medications aren’t going to do you much good (trust me, I’ve tried). Even if you don’t have symptoms but you think you may have been exposed, go see your doctor.

Why? For one, they can test you for herpes and, if you’re positive, tell you what type you have.  Knowing this can help your doctor cater your treatment to your needs. Plus, the more you know, the better you can understand it and treat it. Keep in mind that a typical STD screening doesn’t test for herpes – you need to ask for it specifically.

A doctor can also prescribe you the medication you need to most effectively combat your herpes. This medication can be used to treat and prevent outbreaks, and even help lower the chance of you spreading herpes to others. After trying every home remedy and OTC medication available, I can confirm that seeing your doctor is THE best step towards taking control of your HSV!

Don’t have a doctor or health insurance? Planned Parenthood provides information and screenings. Find the nearest one here

Be Responsible

I know we tend to run away from our responsibilities, but hear me out on this one. Now that you are HSV positive, you can spread it to others. Yikes, right? Luckily, there are simple preventative measures you can and should take. Taking your prescribed medication, using condoms, and refraining from sexual activity during outbreaks are all musts! In fact, when in an outbreak, be mindful of everything your open sores may touch and any potential exposure to others.

Now for the hard part: you need to be upfront and honest with any sexual partners you have. Let them know you have herpes and of any preventative measures you’ve taken. Just like every other STD conversation you (hopefully) have with your partners, do this before you get intimate. I said this was going to be simple, not easy! But I can tell you that they’ll be glad you told them. It’s what you would want if the tables were turned, isn’t it? If you don’t feel comfortable disclosing this to them, reconsider getting intimate. And if you get a negative response from your partner, keeping your pants on is probably for the best anyway!

Outbreaks

There’s no way to sugarcoat this. Outbreaks. Are. The. Worst. They are annoying and painful and stressful and just really no fun at all, but they still happen. And I’m here to share what I’ve learned.

It’s possible that outbreaks can be triggered. For me, it’s always the week I start my menstrual cycle. I don’t get outbreaks during every single period, but when I do it’s always that time of the month. It sucks, (talk about a double-whammy, amirite?) but at least I can prepare! Keep a lookout for your own triggers, like sun exposure, allergic reactions, colds or even your diet.

Always have your prescribed medication filled and with you! You never know when you might feel the tingling of a coming outbreak, and the sooner you take your meds the better.

During an outbreak, everything that might have come in contact with your sores must be immediately washed or tossed. Cups, utensils, clothes, bed sheets, pillowcases, towels... wash them all. Lip balm, lipstick, toothbrushes, loofah, the OJ you drink straight from the carton—put them in the trash. Some of these examples may differ depending on the type of HSV you have, but you get the idea.

In addition to prescribed meds, there are other items I keep on hand for outbreaks. Q-tips are great for direct application of medication or creams on sores and cotton pads can be used to keep the sores dry. Ibuprofen or aspirin really help with any pain you have. For oral herpes, Orajel products quickly and temporarily numb the whole area if you want to eat or brush your teeth more comfortably. Also, Abreva is a lifesaver for treating full-blown oral outbreaks. If you have genital herpes, wear loose, breathable clothing and cotton underwear to help keep everything dry.

And if you want to know even more...

Visit WebMD, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) and Planned Parenthood.

Contracting herpes is probably not the high point of your life, but you don't have to be a slave to it. At the end of the day, it's a diagnosis. It may be a part of you, but it doesn't define you. No way you're going to let this little thing dampen your shine, right? Being informed, prepared, and proactive are the best ways to make herpes your bitch and to keep on living your best life.

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