Herpes has a number of recognisable symptoms, but it is easily mistaken for other conditions. Read on to find out about the virus, and how it can be recognised.
Is it herpes or something else?
Herpes is one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections; around 67% of adults under the age of fifty are thought to be infected by HSV-1, which is more commonly known as oral herpes. HSV-2 is often referred to as genital herpes, though the HSV-1 strain can also be spread to the genitals.
Herpes can easily spread during any form of sexual contact, and although they provide significant protection from the spread of STIs, condoms are not able to provide full protection from the herpes virus.
Many people who have been infected with the herpes virus can go for months - or even years - without experience any symptoms, which is one of the reasons why herpes is easily spread between partners. It is much more likely that an individual will contract the infection from a partner currently experiencing symptoms (a flare up), but it is still possible to catch herpes even when no symptoms are present. These symptoms will include:
Certain conditions can be confused with the herpes virus. Read more about the most common issues, their symptoms, and how to set your mind at ease.
A yeast infection is easily confused with the herpes virus, as it can cause irritation and intense itching around the vulva and vagina, and painful urination. It is not a sexually transmitted infection, although your risk of contracting a yeast infection rises when you become sexually active.
You may also be more prone to yeast infections if you have a history of contracting them, if you are taking antibiotics which eradicate the ‘good bacteria’ in the vagina, have a weakened immune system, are pregnant, or are not taking the right steps to control your diabetes. Men can contract yeast infections from infected sexual partners, though this is much rarer.
A yeast infection can be easily confused with herpes. If you are unsure, it is a good idea to buy a herpes test kit, which can be completed from the comfort and privacy of your own home.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections are another common complaint, typically caused by bacteria entering the urethra. It is more common in women, who have shorter urethras, but men can also contract urinary tract infections.
Urinary tract infections tend to cause a sudden, urgent need to visit the toilet, pain when urinating, and an inability to pass more than a small amount of urine. They may also cause an unusual odour, discolouration or cloudiness.
Again, if you are unsure or worried, it is best to take an at-home herpes test kit to rule out the possibility of an STI.
The skin in the genital region is a lot more sensitive than other areas of your body and, as such, is more prone to irritation. Shaving, waxing, and ingrown hairs can all cause discomfort, itching, and redness which may be mistaken for the herpes virus.
Herpes sores will typically appear in clusters, whereas an ingrown hair will appear more isolated. Ingrown hairs will also look a little more like spots or pimples; the herpes virus will be recurrent and may release a yellowish discharge when broken.
One of the main symptoms of oral herpes are the sores that appear on the lip line, and in the opening of the mouth. It is easy to confuse a typical ulcer with oral herpes, although there are a few key differences to look out for.
Mouth ulcers are not contagious; they are commonly caused by biting the soft tissue in your mouth, brushing your teeth too hard, braces, a vitamin deficiency, or hormonal changes - particularly during pregnancy.
Ulcers are white, with some redness around the edge, and will typically go away on their own within a few days.
The sores associated with oral herpes will appear on the lips, as well as the edges of the mouth. They will look more like blisters, and may appear in small clusters along the lips.
Play it Safe
Although there are many different conditions that can cause similar symptoms to the herpes virus, it remains a very common condition affecting adults all over the world. Symptoms may take a long time to arise, even after the infection has been contracted.
If you think there is a chance you could have made contact with the herpes virus, it is always best to procure a herpes test kit - even if you have not experienced any symptoms.