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Herpes: The Blistering Facts


Do you have herpes? Many of us would feel pretty comfortable answering "absolutely not." However, a recent report from the World Health Organization finds that if you are under 50, there is a 67 percent chance the answer is "yes."

Before you get too worried, herpes is a little misunderstood. There are many misconceptions out there about what it is, how you get it and what the symptoms are.

Herpes is a family of viruses. The most common virus from this family is herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is the most common cause of cold sores (fever blisters) and HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes.

"But there is some overlap of these two viruses," explained Christopher Hull, MD, a University of Utah dermatologist.

Herpes viruses are among the most common infections worldwide, but many people are asymptomatic. Positive tests for HSV-1 antibodies make up the lion's share of herpes diagnoses, with fewer people being infected with HSV-2.

With so many people harboring the disease, how is it that so few people realize they have it? Almost 90 percent of all herpes cases don't cause symptoms, Hull said. Some others may have minor symptoms that could be confused for an ingrown hair or a pimple.

The report also found a correlation between fewer children getting HSV-1, thanks to more awareness of the spreading of germs. At the same time, more adults are getting HSV-2. One doesn't protect from the other, but it could affect the likelihood of one or the other.

"There isn't any reason to worry if you've been going along without symptoms," Dr. Hull said. "Herpes is only tested and diagnosed when symptoms are present. It is so common and generally asymptomatic that it's not even tested for on a full STD panel."

Chances are, even if you have herpes, you won't ever know it. But hopefully the new report can help change perceptions of others who are openly suffering. It's a much more common phenomenon than many think.

"For someone who develops frequent cold sores, the severity of the symptoms are variable, with some people having mild infrequent sores and others having frequent more severe outbreaks," he added.

There are a number of treatment options available to help shorten the duration and lessen the severity of an outbreak. Schedule an appointment to consult with your health care provider about treatment options.