Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the articles about the reported Coachella Herpes outbreak. Even though their local public health community has debunked it, the fact is that HSV2, and all STDs, are on the rise nationwide. But before you dive headlong into a WebMD self-diagnosis spiral, let’s consult the facts, and quell some of the fears that have been popping up all along the Coachella Valley since April 11th.
So first, let’s talk basics. What IS Herpes?
- Herpes comes in two varieties, Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV-1), and Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 (HSV-2).
- Genital herpes can be caused by BOTH virus types.
- Many people experience few if any symptoms. Those that do experience symptoms may have sores, blisters, or rashes in the affected area (typically mouth or genitals), which can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms during the first outbreak, which is usually the most severe.
Ok, but here you are, post-Coachella, reading all the articles, and you need to know, “Do I have herpes now?”
Here are a few things to look out for:
In many cases, people develop flu-like symptoms, (think fever, cold sweats, etc) between 5 – 14 days after contraction. Early signs can include itching, burning, discomfort while urinating, a feeling of pressure in the abdomen, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, and often discharge in women, any of these can be the first symptoms of an HSV2 infection. The characteristic genital sores usually develop later, and can appear as painful red bumps or blisters. Lesions vary in size and number, often beginning small and developing into painful blisters over time.
What should you do now?
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, particularly a week or two after a fun night with someone new, don’t panic. But do make an appointment to see your doctor to get tested and, if necessary, treated.
Even if you don’t have any symptoms, you may still want to get tested. The SAFE app makes it super easy to find and book appointments at labs nearby. It’s free to download and join, and just $99 for the STD panel when paying cash, or you can use insurance to cover the cost.
It’s important to note that the HSV2 test may come back positive even if you never experience symptoms. But for many, being tested is a great way to get some clarity quickly, or at least put you on the road toward it.
What should you do in the future?
The SAFE app also lets you import your results from anywhere. So if you do get tested at your doctor, or elsewhere, just import your results through the SAFE app. Ask your partner to do the same, so next time instead of guessing, you can simply show each other your status on your phones. If either of you are positive, SAFE provides a good opportunity to have that conversation.
What does it mean if you do have herpes?
- You’re not going to die. Well we’re all going to die, just not from herpes (except in extraordinarily rare cases, if you also have an autoimmune disorder like HIV/AIDS).
- Your sex life is not over.
- You’re not alone. More than 1 in 6 people (ages 14-49) have HSV2. And HSV1 affects an estimated 67% of the population. Many people you know have herpes, even if you didn’t know it.
- It gets better. Most people experiencing symptoms report a significant decrease in severity over time. The first outbreak is by far the worst, for most people.
While Herpes has no cure, it IS very treatable. Valtrex/Valcylavir is an effective way to prevent outbreaks and reduce their severity, while also making it harder (but not impossible) to pass the infection along to partners. Condoms also help lower the risk, but will not protect you completely (as the skin around your genitals isn’t covered).
HSV is not a death sentence, or even a sexless life sentence. It just means that you now have the responsibility to disclose your status. To give a future partner the choice that wasn’t given to you. And yes, this may come with rejection, it may come with a resounding ‘me too!’, or it may come with a willingness to embrace your status while taking the necessary precautions.
The most important thing to remember is, if you have herpes, talk to your partner. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider. Being educated and honest about your status is the sexiest thing you can do.