Herpes/Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is a virus that affects the skin. There are two major types known as type 1 and type 2.
Typically HSV type 1 affects the mouth area and is associated with cold sores (passed on through kissing) and is common.
HSV type 2 typically affects the genital area and is associated with sexual transmission.
Anyone with symptoms (listed below) should get tested but even those without symptoms who believe they are at risk should consider getting tested. HSV can pass on through skin contact from an infected area so protection is not as effective for prevention.
HSV presents as painful/burning blisters that are often clustered together on the skin. Sometimes the blisters burst and small painful ulcers are left.
For some the initial symptom will be a tingling sensation in the affected area before visual symptoms appear. Symptoms are very similar to shingles which is a condition caused by another member of the Herpes family. HSV 1 may present around the genitals and HSV 2 may present on the face.
Typically HSV 1 presents around the mouth as cold sores. This is very common and most are infected when they are young and learn to recognise the patterns early on.
HSV 2 usually presents around the genitals and anus region. But do note that it is possible for cross infection, ie. HSV 2 can affect the face particularly if oral sex was involved.
If symptoms are present then we can perform a swab test of that area. This test is very accurate and can differentiate between type 1 and type 2. We cannot perform a swab test when no symptoms are present.
If no symptoms are present or you just wish to know if you are a carrier then a blood test for antibodies can be performed. However, this test should only be performed a minimum of 3 months after possible infection.
Unfortunately there is no cure for HSV. Once you have been infected it will usually remain with you for life. However, if no symptoms are present then it is dormant and you do not need specific treatment meaning you may lead your life as normal.
If symptoms are present we can use cream, tablets or a combination of both to help alleviate the current flare. For mild cases of HSV 1 we may just use antiviral cream but in more severe cases or if genital herpes is present then we may use oral antiviral medication as this produces a prompter response.
Thankfully herpes is not a serious condition, although it can produce troublesome symptoms. If left to run its full course, symptoms would usually settle down in time. It is possible that a serious flare could lead to other areas of skin becoming infected but it will usually quieten down on its own. During this time, however, the symptoms might be noticeably uncomfortable. Due to this most will want medication to settle symptoms as soon as possible.
Another note is that while symptoms are present you will be considered much more infectious.
Herpes is remarkably difficult to prevent. It can pass on even if there are no symptoms (although the majority of infections will occur from symptomatic people). Additionally practicing safe sex does not guarantee a reduction in risk because herpes can affect the whole genital region and not just the penis and vaginal are. This means any pelvic contact can also lead to transmission.
However, two methods that can help reduce the chance of infections are avoiding sex when symptoms are present or using long term medication to suppress the virus. It is important to note that these methods apply to the partner that is already infected and wish to reduce the chance of passing it to their uninfected partner.
Feel free to come and speak to our friendly and approachable doctors about any issues you may be having. Remember we still cover all the GP stuff as well.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection primarily passed on through sex. However, if an infected person has symptoms and that comes into contact with damaged or broken skin then it is possible to pass on even in the absence of sex.
The first stage of Syphilis presents with sore(s) at the location the infection entered the body, typically around the genital region but it can present on the anus or mouth as well. The sores tend to be round and are painless which can lead to a delay in identifying them.
The second stage usually presents with a widespread rash that can be anywhere on the body but the typical areas tend to be the hands/feet and torso region. The rashes are not itchy and they can appear quite flat, sometimes making them easy to miss.
Both are bacteria that can potentially be present on the skin, particularly around the genital region. They can be passed on through skin contact of contaminated areas as well as through sex.
HIV is a virus that can pass on primarily through sex and sharing of unsanitised drug needles. The former is the primary mode of transmission particularly unprotected vaginal or anal sex. Thankfully oral sex is considered negligible risk for HIV.
This is an important point because HIV often has no symptoms in the early stage. Some may experience severe symptoms such as high fever, marked body aches, chills, runny nose, sore throat and fatigue approximately 3 weeks after infection but there is considerable overlap with other conditions such as the flu and Covid 19. Therefore symptoms at the early stage are unreliable and should not be used to exclude or diagnose HIV. Testing is the only accurate way to do this.
Trichomonas is a fairly common parasite passed on through sex and affects women more often.
In a majority of people with Trichomonas, symptoms can be absent making it difficult to identify without testing. However, if symptoms are present then the below list shows the common presentation:
HPV is a virus that can infect many areas of the body. There are over 100 strains and the majority are low risk and reside on the skin and can cause conditions such as warts. While this isn’t pleasant it can be easily treated. Approximately 40 HPV strains can be passed on through sex but 12 to 14 of these are considered high risk for certain types of cancer.
Low risk strains of HPV may produce warts. Those that are passed on sexually may produce genital warts which are fleshy growths from the skin around the genital and anal region. High risk strains often have no symptoms until it is too late. If we take cervical cancer as an example, many women who are developing this cancer due to HPV have no symptoms at all.
Chlamydia is another bacterial infection exclusively passed on during sex (oral, vaginal and anal). As with gonorrhoea the risk is much higher in unprotected sex but if protection is not used correctly then the risk is increased as well.
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that is commonly passed on through unprotected sex (vaginal, anal and oral).
You should consider screening if you have symptoms of a possible STD, if you have had a recent risky exposure (unprotected sex with a casual partner), or both.
Yes, you can. The common misconception is that oral sex is not considered ‘real’ sex and therfore has no risk but the opposite is true. Often oral sex is performed without protection and this is why infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can pass on through oral sex.
Thankfully the majority can be cured but there are some such as Herpes and HIV that can be treated but not cured. This is why prevention is better than cure and ensuring safe sex goes a long way to reduce your risks.