Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD., June 26, 2017

What is herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2)?

Herpes simplex virus 2, also known as herpes type 2 or HSV-2, is a viral infection. It affects the skin and mucous membranes which line genitals. Herpes 2 is commonly known as genital herpes. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 45 million people in the U.S. have genital herpes.

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Does herpes have symptoms?

Not always. Oral herpes can show up as painful cold sores in and around your mouth. Genital herpes are the same lesions around the genitals. It can be associated with genital itching and burning. The majority of people infected with HSV 1 and HSV 2 do not have symptoms but can still infect others. Without symptoms, the only way to know you have herpes is to get tested.

How do you get herpes?

You can get herpes from skin to skin contact, oral, vaginal, and anal sex. The easiest way for herpes to spread is when there is an open active sore. But it’s important to know you can still get herpes when there's no symptoms at all.

So, how can herpes be prevented? Abstaining from sex is the only way to be 100% safe from STDs. But if you're sexually active, latex condoms help drop the risk of transmission. Telling a partner you have genital herpes has also been shown to reduce the risk of transmission. Some people will take medicine to further reduce the risk.

How do I get tested for herpes type 2?

We offer a type-specific blood test for herpes type 2. It’s the industry standard for herpes testing and is very accurate. Having had shingles or chickenpox will not affect this test. One quick blood draw is taken at your test location.

What else should I know about herpes testing?

It can take up to 3 months for a HSV test to become positive after a person has been infected. That’s because the test looks for antibodies which take a while to develop once you’ve been infected. You can be infected then spread it to others before your test has time to "turn" positive. If you are concerned about contracting herpes you should test at 3 weeks after the exposure and again at 3 months.

When your results are ready, we will put you in touch with a physician on the phone at no extra cost. Depending on your situation, he or she will advise you on next steps and, if medically necessary and permitted by state law, prescribe treatment.

What if I have herpes but don't know it?

You wouldn't be alone. It’s not tested for as commonly as other STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV and the majority of those infected don’t have symptoms. About 1 million new genital herpes cases are reported every year in the U.S. This is why it is very important to wear condoms each and every time you have sexual intercourse or oral sex. While condoms are the best protection, they are not 100% effective. Get tested for herpes to know for sure.

What if I'm pregnant?

The risk of the baby contracting herpes is the highest during a vaginal delivery. If you or someone you know is pregnant and has herpes, seek medical care and discuss options with a healthcare provider.

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