At this point in our lives, certain things have become too important to ignore because of the changes we now experience. Getting tested for a sexually transmitted infection is one of the many things that are more than essential, especially to sexually active young people.
Is getting tested for a disease one of the most exciting ways to spend free time? You bet the answer is no. But you cannot deny that it is a crucial part of staying healthy both sexually and otherwise.
So, many of us have made it a habit to go for routine STI tests, and if you are one of us, you must have realized that doctors don’t bother to test for herpes. Why wouldn’t they even check if I have herpes?
The answer we have got is that testing for herpes is not as easy and straightforward as testing for other sexually transmitted infections. As you read further, you will understand what I mean and why doctors do not think they should test for herpes.
What you must know about herpes and how the infection is transmitted?
There are two versions of the herpes simplex virus that can be responsible for this infection, per information from the center for disease control and Prevention (CDC): there are the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
If you think HSV-1 is responsible for oral herpes, and the HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes, then you are absolutely correct. However, that is not the full picture.
The reality of the issue is that both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause either a genial or mouth infection through unprotected sexual contact.
Though the HSV-1 has a preference for oral mucosa, there have been recent reports of cases where it affects the genitals. Such can happen when a person who has HSV-1 in their mouth has oral sex with someone else whose genitals are unprotected.
And even though HSV-2 is still majorly responsible for a lot of genital herpes cases, it can be the cause of oral herpes when a person with the infection on their sex organ passes it to an unsuspecting person who gives them oral sex.
Whether you have herpes in your genitals or in your mouth the bottom line is that herpes can cause blisters that sometimes break open and leave you with painful sores that usually take a week or longer to heal.
I have met a lot of people who think cold sores are symptoms of malaria; however, the reality is that fever blisters or cold sores actually sores that show up as a result of the herpes virus.
A person’s first herpes Outbreak may come with symptoms that mimic those of flu; symptoms like headache, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and even body aches are prevalent. When all of these symptoms show or it is proof that your immune system is fighting hard to get rid of the herpes virus.
With the explanation above, you may begin to think that these signs are evidence that something is not right with your health when you have herpes. However, it is quite possible for a person to have herpes and yet not exhibit any of the symptoms mentioned above.
Many times the herpes virus lies dormant in a person’s body without revealing itself. This explains why a lot of people have herpes and do not even know that they have it.
How common is herpes?
So many people in the world have herpes, and that is enough to make it qualify as a commonplace infection even tho we tend to ignore it a lot.
According to the most recent data provided by the center for disease control, about 48% of people between the ages of 14 to 49 in the United States of America had herpes between 2015 and 2016.
The alarming number of people who have herpes is nothing to be surprised about because a lot of these people may have contacted the virus as children without having any form of sexual Encounter.
This is possible when parents who have HSV-1 plant kisses on their children’s mouths or when kids play with their friends and make innocent body contacts.
Bear in mind that even though HSV-1 usually presents itself as fever blisters or cold sores, it is very possible for someone with HSV-1 to have genital herpes.
You probably have heard that one in every six people have genital herpes even though this is an outdated statistics it is still very alarming.
This one in every six people figure was released according to the national survey by the center of disease control that was carried out from 2005-2008 and finally released in 2010
The data that is considered most recent is the current NHANES data, which is based on a survey from 2015 to 2016, puts the estimate at 1 in every 8 people.
11.9 percent of people living in the US who were between the ages of 14 to 49 at the time were discovered to have HSV-2 according to the center for disease control.
Nevertheless, the actual number of people with genital herpes may be higher or lower than that because we know that hsv-2 can also result in oral herpes, while HSV-1 can also result in genital herpes.
Also as we will discuss further getting a blood test to detect herpes accurately can be a very tricky process, you would understand better going forward. What this means is that we cannot tell you if the figures provided by the center for disease control are accurate.
Currently, it seems as if the rates of HSV-2 are declining fast; however, there is no specific reason why this decline is occurring. According to Dr. Johnston, who is an associate director of UW Medicine’s Virology Research Clinic, “It is particularly puzzling given that other STIs are going up dramatically, suggesting that the reason for the decline is not changing sexual behavior.”
So why doctors do not automatically test you for herpes during an STI test?
Evidently, almost everyone knows that herpes is a very Common infection, so why won’t doctors go ahead and test for it automatically whenever you book to be tested for every sexually transmitted infection?
The best way to answer this question is first to make you understand the significant difference between testing for STI and screening for STI. Whenever you have symptoms of STI’s is when you go for testing, but selection is only made whenever you want to be sure if you have been exposed to an STI or not.
This is believed to be very important from the perspective of public health because getting any of these infections and knowing you have them early enough can help to prevent complications such as pelvic inflammatory diseases.
Such severe complications occur when an untreated sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia or gonorrhea affects a person’s reproductive organs, which can cause infertility.
Experts do not screen for herpes for a few reasons.
According to Dr. Johnson, The United States preventative task force has warned against the screening of asymptotic adults and teens for the HSV infection.
The reason for this is that there is still no health benefit that has been linked to testing for herpes, and there are also a couple of risks that are associated with such screening.
One of the risks that doctors try to avoid is a false positive test, and another one that bothers them a lot is a risk of anxiety. Even though herpes is not connected to any severe health outcomes, people still fear having it.
Even people who are pregnant are usually at the risk of passing the HSV virus to their children during childbirth do not get a screen for herpes except if they have a history of a herpes outbreak or the doctor finds out that they have a current outbreak.
If a person has possible herpes symptoms, a doctor can easily diagnose them on sight according to the center for disease control. However, in this case, there is also a possibility for your doctor to want to carry out a test just to be sure what you should be treated for and to determine what kind of herpes you are dealing with.
The doctor might take a swab of the Outbreak for testing, but it is not in every case that the swap would represent the actual situation on the ground.
It is very important for your doctor to know which of the viruses you have, so if your doctor decides to treat you without even testing to be sure, make sure you ask questions.
There is the option available for you to enter the Polymerase Chain Reaction test. This test requires that the doctor takes a tiny sample of tissue or blood from the sore so that he can test your DNA and pinpoint the kind of herpes you are dealing with.
The center for disease control points out that the Polymerase Chain Reaction tests are becoming more common these days because of how specific they are in terms of producing results. This reduces the chances of any false positive cases.
What if you do not have any symptoms of herpes, but you just want to get tested to know your status? In this case, what your doctor is required to do is take some blood and search for the presence of herpes antibodies.
For the sake of those who do not know, antibodies are proteins that are created by your immune system whenever you’ve been exposed to a harmful substance or attack. This definition is according to the United States National Library of medicine
Nevertheless, it usually doesn’t make any sense for anybody to get tested for herpes antibodies because of the fact that there is a possibility the virus might be dormant.
Let’s say for example you test positive, but there is a considerable chance that you would never have an outbreak in your entire life, a person might go through some unnecessary stress because of the unfair herpes stigma in the society.
Having these antibodies only means that you have HSV in your system; it does not guarantee that you have become actively infectious or will ever become actively contagious. The presence of antibodies is just your body’s way of keeping the virus under control.
There is also a very huge possibility of getting a false positive result what this means is that even though you do not have any herpes antibodies, your test report might suggest that you do. The same way you can also get a false negative result when you actually have some herpes antibodies in your body, but you are unaware.
It is a very excellent thing for one to be proactive about taking care of their sexual health. However, trying to get a herpes test done when you do not have any apparent symptoms might not be worth the trouble.
The primary exception is only if you had a past partner, or you know a current sexual partner who has had a herpes outbreak. In such a case, even if you might not have experienced any symptoms, it is only regular that you are inquisitive and have yourself checked.
If you go for an HSV antibodies test and you test positive, it is crucial that you go for a confirmatory test such as a PCR test using a blood sample. If after your PCR test, your result comes out positive, you can then go ahead and disclose to whoever needs to know about your herpes status.
A lot of times, individuals who test positive for antibodies go right ahead and tell their partners without having to do a confirmatory test. This is dangerous because there is a possibility that the first test results were false.
Besides, all of this the only theoretical benefits that could result from having a herpes antibody test might just be a renewed commitment to having only protected sex so that you do not get infected or pass the infection to any other person.
Even for people who do not have symptoms, it is very possible for them to share the virus. Safe sex is about protecting yourself and protecting others, so it makes a lot of sense for a person to naturally practice it whether or not they go for herpes testing or their test result comes out positive or negative.
How to stay safe while avoiding panic and stigma?
No doubt there is always the temptation to freak out a little bit whenever you get to know that herpes is not only a widespread virus, but it is something that you do not routinely or randomly get tested for. So with all of this information, how do you move on without panicking?
The first step you need to take is to practice the same safe sex that you already know would help to prevent you from contacting any other sexually transmitted infections. As a matter of fact, your best bet in this situation is to always use either an external or an internal condom if you have any penetration.
And also, make use of physical Shields like dental dams if you’re having oral sex. I must emphasize that this may not fully protect you from herpes, especially because herpes is quickly passed from skin to skin contact with the infected area. It will, however, reduce how much of the affected area you are exposed to.
This simply explains why going to screen for herpes infection when you do not have any symptoms will not yield any fruitful results, because at the end of the screening you get the same advice to practice protected sex.
Right now, with the new law to not screen people for herpes, many young people might not be comfortable. But with time if there are better diagnostic strategies, routine screenings might become achievable. Nonetheless, it is very vital that people know their status so that they can have them self protected and also protect their partners.
You must also remember that no matter how careful you are, you can still get a herpes infection whether it presents itself as genital herpes or cold sores. Even if you have sex with a condom, there is still a considerable possibility of contracting herpes. This is because of the nature of transmission of this virus.
Also, the fact that herpes can present itself with little or no symptoms means that you might get infected when you have sex with a person who does not even know that they have herpes.
What we must do as a society is eradicate the stigma associated with genital herpes and also know the symptoms to look out for whenever you have a herpes outbreak. It is essential to understand how to treat them and also do what is necessary to protect your partner from getting infected.
If you think you might have herpes do not hesitate to visit a doctor such as an OB/GYN if you notice sores on your genitals or visit a dermatologist if you are having sores around your mouth.
You can also visit a local health clinic for medical consultation and possible testing. What a medical expert will do is to evaluate your symptoms, possibly take samples for testing, and finally offer you treatment options if they are necessary.
The medical practitioner who attends to you will most likely start you on antiviral medications so as to help you become less contagious and also heal faster
Your doctor might also offer to counsel on the best possible way for you to tell your sexual partners about your herpes status without perpetrating stigma in the process. The most important thing is to make sure you do not panic so that they, too do not panic.
Yes, it is true that having herpes means that you have a viral infection, and we are fully aware that herpes stigma is all over the place. Thus it is not just as simple as telling a person to ignore the fact that they are possibly infected with herpes.
However, you must understand that people who have herpes can still have healthy sex, fall in love with anybody of their choice, and enjoy a very natural romantic experience. If you confirm that you have herpes, please do not exclude yourself from enjoying life to the fullest. You can live like a very healthy person that you are and still tell others the best way to protect themselves.
We hope that you find this article very educating. Please, do not hesitate to leave a comment below to let us know what your opinions are and also ask questions.