Herpes: Is It a Serious Disease?

Herpes is a virus that is often misunderstood and feared. While it is true that it is incurable and can cause painful outbreaks, it is not usually life-threatening and can be managed with medication. Genital herpes is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) and can be dangerous for pregnant women, as it increases the risk of premature birth and can cause a fatal infection in the womb. There is no cure for herpes, but prescription medications can help to reduce symptoms and the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

The World Health Organization (WHO) works to increase awareness of HSV infection and its symptoms, improve access to antiviral drugs, and promote HIV prevention initiatives among people with genital herpes. It is important to get tested for HIV (AIDS) and other STIs (such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia) if you have herpes. In people who are immunocompromised, including those with advanced HIV infection, herpes may have more severe symptoms and more frequent recurrences. Herpes is more easily transmitted when the sores are open and moist, as fluid from herpes blisters can spread the virus.

Pregnant women who have been diagnosed with HSV-2 should start taking a daily antiviral at 36 weeks of pregnancy to avoid outbreaks during childbirth. Neonatal herpes can be transmitted from mother to child during childbirth, but this is rare. People with symptoms of oral herpes should avoid oral contact with others (including oral sex) and sharing objects that have been in contact with saliva. The average incubation period for an initial herpes infection is 4 days after exposure.

If you notice symptoms, they will vary depending on whether it is your first outbreak or a repeat one. Because the transmission of the virus is intermittent, it is possible for a person to have a genital herpes infection even if it hasn't been detected by the NAAT or culture. It is important to take precautions to prevent transmission of the virus to others. Herpes can be painful, but it usually doesn't cause serious health problems like other STDs can.