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About herpes

Herpes is an infection caused by one of two strains of a virus that affects the mouth and genitals.

Herpes is an infection caused by a virus of which there are two strains: herpes type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes type 2 (HSV-2). 

  • HSV-1 primarily affects the mouth, where it produces lesions that are sometimes called ‚Äúcold sores‚ÄĚ. However, it can be transmitted to the genitals.¬†

  • HSV-2 mainly affects the genitals. It is very rare that it is transmitted by mouth.

People infected with herpes virus type 1 or type 2 are infected for life.

Why should you get tested?

While less likely, a person with herpes can transmit the disease even during times when he or she does not have lesions. Early detection and notification of current and future sexual partners of a diagnosis of herpes is recommended.

Sexual transmission can occur even without penetration, orgasm or ejaculation.

If you have had risky, unprotected sex or have symptoms, you should see your health care professional for testing.

There are several reasons why herpes simplex virus (HSV) serology is not a good screening tool :

  • The delay in detecting the infection is particularly long (can easily exceed three months);

  • A positive result, espacially for HSV-1, does not make it possible to specify the focus of the HSV infection (labial or genital);

  • The sensitivity and especially the specificity of the serological test are less than 100%, wich gives poor predictive value in populations where the prevalence i slow;

  • The absence of a confirmatory test, as for other STBBIs detectable by serology (e.g. hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, Syphilis) makes the interpretation of the results risky.

If you show symptoms of HSV infection, we invite you to make an appointment with a healthcare professional.

Signs and symptoms

Most people with herpes have no symptoms. Therefore, a person can be infected without knowing it. When the disease does cause symptoms, they are:

  1. The first episode of an "attack" occurs when a cluster of fluid-filled blisters appears. They may be located on the genitals (penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, anus), or on nearby areas (thighs, buttocks). 

  2. These vesicles then turn into small lesions or ulcers that are painful and highly contagious. Without treatment, they persist for about 5 to 10 days, before crusting and then reabsorbing. 

  3. During the first episode, fever, aches and pains or headaches may also occur. 

  4. Following the first episode, these blisters may then reappear in a random fashion, which is known as a herpes "attack" or "outbreak". They often begin with a tingling sensation or numbness at the site of the lesion(s). Redness and swelling often follow. In the hours or days that follow, the blisters reappear and form small ulcers, which resolve again after 5 to 10 days.

If left untreated, these outbreaks last an average of 10 days. They are more frequent during the first year after infection and tend to be less frequent thereafter.


  • Oral sex (contact of the mouth with the penis, vulva, vagina or anus)¬†

  • Vaginal intercourse (penetration of the penis into the vagina)¬†

  • Anal intercourse (penetration of the penis into the anus)¬†

  • Contact between genitals¬†

  • Sharing sex toys¬†

  • Mother-to-baby transmission at birth¬†

The person with herpes can transmit the disease even during times when he or she does not have lesions, although this is less likely. The most likely time to transmit or contract herpes is when sexual relations occur and the person with herpes has visible sores (cold sores or genital lesions). It is recommended that current and future sexual partners be notified of a diagnosis of herpes. 

Incubation period (time interval before the disease is detectable) 

  • If performed by culture of lesions: 24 to 48 hours (lesions must be present)¬†

  • If done by serology (blood sample): 8 to 12 weeks (lesions do not have to be present)


Because herpes can be transmitted even when lesions are absent, the primary protection against this disease is to wear a condom during all genital contact, and during oral, vaginal or anal sex. 

Using a latex square to cover the vulva or anus during oral sex is also a reliable means of protection. To make a latex square, simply unroll a condom, cut off the ends and cut lengthwise. 


  • Herpes increases the risk of getting or transmitting HIV.¬†

  • Newborns infected by their mothers at birth can suffer serious complications, such as skin, mouth or eye damage. They may also develop brain damage.¬†


  • At this time, there is no cure for herpes.¬†

    However, certain antiviral drugs are used to reduce the frequency and duration of outbreaks, as well as to relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission. They are used for an average of 5 days, shortly before the onset of attacks. In this regard, many affected individuals can sometimes even prevent recurrences of herpes when they recognize the warning signs (tingling sensation, for example).