September 28, 2022

Can Herpes Be Cured? What You Should Know

Key Takeaways

  • There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV): HSV-1 and HSV-2. 
  • Although there is no cure for herpes, there are a number of treatment options available that can lessen the severity of outbreaks and symptoms. 
  • Left untreated, genital herpes can cause inflammation of the bladder, expose babies during birth, and increase the risk of contracting other STIs. 
  • The most accurate way to diagnose herpes is with a blood test. At-home testing and kits are available for increased privacy.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed or exposed to the herpes virus, you understandably have a lot of questions. For instance, can the virus be cured? Are there treatment options available? And what happens if you leave herpes untreated? 

In this article, we’ll break down some of the most common questions regarding herpes and provide solutions to treat the condition and minimize discomfort. 

What is herpes? 

Herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes sores or blisters to form in or around the mouth or genitals, along with other symptoms. The virus that causes herpes is the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and is a chronic, lifelong viral infection. 

There are two types of HSV: 

  • The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes oral herpes, with symptoms that present as open sores around the mouth and surrounding skin. HSV-1 can also affect the genital area. When the sores are on the face, they’re typically called cold sores or fever blisters.
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is associated with genital herpes, which involves open sores around the genital area and is usually sexually transmitted. However, it’s important to note that genital herpes can also be caused by HSV-1 through oral sex.

Both of these viruses are extremely common. In fact, more than half of Americans have oral herpes (HSV-1), and around 11.9% of people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes (HSV-2). 

How do you treat herpes? 

Although there is no cure for herpes, there are a number of treatment options available that can lessen the severity of outbreaks and symptoms, as well as reduce the likelihood of transmission to partners. 

Because HSV-1 and HSV-2 affect different parts of the body and the signs and symptoms differ, the treatment can also vary. Below are a few treatment options for both HSV-1 and HSV-2. 

How do you treat oral herpes? 

HSV-1 is typically spread through direct skin contact, like kissing or performing oral sex with someone who has the virus. Oral herpes causes blisters to form in and around the lips and mouth. These blisters, often referred to as fever sores or cold sores, usually last between 2-3 weeks before clearing up.

Symptoms of oral herpes typically clear up on their own in a matter of days, however, there are a few treatment options available that can relieve some of the pain and irritation. John Hopkins Medicine recommends the following:  

  • Applying antiviral ointment 
  • Over-the-counter topical anesthetics 
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents
  • Keeping the infected area clean and dry 

Oral herpes can also cause more severe symptoms, especially during the initial (primary) infection. These symptoms can include severe, flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, and headaches. After the initial outbreak, recurring infections tend to be more mild, and some people never have additional outbreaks. 

If you have oral herpes, the best way to prevent spreading the virus is to avoid physical contact with individuals during an outbreak. 

How do you treat genital herpes? 

Genital herpes can be treated with antiviral medications and anesthetic cream which alleviate symptoms and shorten an outbreak. However, if you have genital herpes you should avoid unprotected sex, especially during a breakout where you should avoid all sexual contact. Additionally, even if you are not displaying symptoms, you can still spread the disease.

Can you cure herpes? 

As we mentioned, the herpes simplex virus is a chronic, lifelong virus. Once the virus enters the body, it will stay there forever. Although there is no cure, the above  treatment options can help outbreaks become shorter or occur less frequently. 

Learn About the Best At-Home Herpes Test - Everything You Need to Know

What if you leave genital herpes untreated? 

It is possible to contract herpes without even realizing it or displaying symptoms. In fact, the majority of people infected with HSV-1 and HSV-2 go undiagnosed because the symptoms are so mild they go unrecognized. However, even if symptoms are mild or unrecognized, that does not mean you cannot unwittingly spread HSV-1 or HSV-2 to other sexual partners.  

There are complications from undiagnosed or untreated herpes, especially from genital herpes. This includes: 

  • Inflammation in the bladder or lining of the rectum 
  • Unwittingly exposing babies to the virus during birth (neonatal herpes)  
  • Increased risk of contracting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) 

If you are pregnant, it’s important to inform your doctor that you have genital herpes. Babies born with genital herpes run the risk of developing very serious complications and experience blindness, brain damage, or even death. 

Additionally, genital herpes can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.

The best way to find out if you have the herpes simplex virus is through regular sexual health testing and screening, especially if you are sexually active or think you may have been exposed. If you don’t want to go to a doctor’s office for testing, at-home herpes tests are available that can accurately diagnose you in the privacy of your home.

Accurate at-home herpes blood tests 

There are three types of at-home testing options for herpes available. Each one tests for antibodies in your blood and include:

  • Blood test kit: You can purchase a CLIA-approved test kit at your local pharmacy or online retailer. Typically, for this antibody test, you collect a small blood sample using a finger prick. You then mail your sample to a lab and collect your results online within a few days. There are test kits available for either HSV-1 or HSV-2, while others test for both.
  • Swab test kit: With this type of at-home herpes test kit you will need to take a swab of a visible lesion or blister on your mouth or genitals. The swab can then be mailed to a lab for testing.
  • Blood test: Mobile phlebotomy services, like Getlabs, provide at-home testing for herpes by sending a phlebotomist to collect a blood sample from you and take it to a lab to be analyzed. Or you can choose to visit a diagnostic lab for testing, but this type of blood tests gives very accurate results.

Generally, blood tests tend to be more reliable than swab tests. If you’re afraid of taking a blood sample yourself and would prefer an experienced professional to perform the test, then Getlabs offers a convenient and comfortable solution for an at-home herpes blood test

You can book an appointment online and a phlebotomist will visit your home, collect your sample, and drop it off at a local lab for testing. We also provide other STI testing. 

This page is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute the provision of medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice regarding any of the tests and conditions referenced above are advised to consult with a licensed clinician. Always seek the advice of your qualified health provider regarding a medical condition and do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information on this page. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or go to the nearest urgent care center or hospital.

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