Good news — we all have herpes! Well, most of us anyway. The World Health Organization reports that about 2/3 of people have herpes, after looking at people under 50 years old. At least the type the normally causes cold sores (herpes simplex virus type 1 or HSV-1). About 3.7 billion people worldwide are estimated to have herpes and most cases are contracted during childhood. So can we stop stigmatizing it now?
But here's the tricky part: while historically HSV-1 has been linked to cold sores, compared to the much less common HSV-2 which causes gentile herpes, HSV-1 is becoming a more and more common source of the genital infection.
How? Well, according to Reuters: "improved hygiene in rich countries is lowering HSV-1 infection rates in childhood, leaving young people more at risk of catching it via oral sex when they become sexually active." Because of this shift, WHO medical officer Sami Gottlieb told Reuters about the need for a vaccine, saying, "we really need to accelerate the development of vaccines against herpes simplex virus, and if a vaccine designed to prevent HSV-2 infection also prevented HSV-1, it would have far reaching benefits."
Many people will carry the herpes virus without ever having a symptom, but as it's so common, here's what you need to know about treatment and containing the infection:
1. Cold Sores Will Probably Heal On Their Own
While cold sores are contagious, especially if they're open or broken, they normally heal up on their own. You can purchase over the counter medicines to aid with the healing process, but if they haven't healed in a week or two, go to your doctor.
2. Especially If It's Your First Outbreak You Should Go To The Doctor
Whether on the mouth or genitals, if you have an outbreak you haven't ever had before, it's important to go to your doctor. If it's on your genitals, the doctor will explain treatment to you and get you started on medication to control the outbreak.
3. You Can't Get Rid Of Genital Herpes, But You Can Treat It
It sucks, I know, but there's no cure for herpes. There are, however, antiviral medications that lessen the severity of each outbreak and options that, if taken daily, can reduce the number of outbreaks and for some people suppress them altogether.
Remember, herpes is spread through skin to skin contact, even though we think of it as a sexually transmitted, so you can transmit it even without having sex — and when you don't have symptoms. It's important to talk to your doctor about different options and how to be safe.
Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.