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What's Herpes

Published: November 14, 1999
Dear TeenHealthFX,
My friend has herpes. She says it's horribly painful and she will have it for the rest of her life. Exactly what is Herpes and how can I avoid getting it? Also, what is the difference between Herpes I and II and how are they spread?
Signed: What's Herpes

Dear What's Herpes,

Herpes I and Herpes II are viral infections spread through direct skin to skin contact and sexual contact (oral, anal or vaginal). The main difference between Herpes I and Herpes II is that the Herpes I virus is usually found in the mouth or facial area and the Herpes II virus is usually found in the genital area. Some other symptoms of herpes are flu-like symptoms, fatigue, fever or swollen glands. Both Herpes I and Herpes II can cause either genital and/or oral outbreaks and the virus remains in the body for the person's entire life.


The initial outbreak of herpes usually occurs within two weeks of the initial infection and can last up to four weeks. In the initial outbreak stage of Herpes I, an infected person usually will develop cold sores in the facial area. In the initial outbreak stage of Herpes II, an infected person usually gets sores or blisters in the genital area, and this can be extremely painful as your friend described. The initial outbreak is usually the worst episode.


There is no cure for Herpes, but there are treatments that can shorten and prevent future outbreaks, and help to relieve the pain. After the initial outbreak, both Herpes I and II can go into a sleeping mode or dormant stage in the body. This is a time when the infected person may have absolutely no symptoms and no sores, but they still can transmit the virus to other people and have other outbreaks throughout their life.


In order to avoid getting Herpes or any sexually transmitted disease (STD), it's important that you follow safer sex guidelines. Remember, two people can have a close, intimate relationship without sexual intercourse. On the other hand, if you both feel you are ready to become sexually active, then:

  • Limit your number of sexual partners.
  • Talk to your partner about there past sexual history. If there is a history of any STD, see a health care provider to discuss your options.
  • Do not have sex or skin to skin contact if your partner is having a herpes outbreak marked by sores.
  • Practice safer sex all the time. Use a condom! Condoms do provide some protection, but if the condom does not cover a herpes sore or lesion you may be putting yourself at risk.
  • Don't forget about pregnancy prevention. Current recommendations include using a condom with another method such as, spermicidal jelly or cream, the birth control pill or injectable birth control (Depo-Provera).

Only a medical professional can diagnose and prescribe medication to help a person with Herpes. If you or anyone you know is worried that you may have Herpes or any other STDs, please contact your local teen health center.

Signed: TeenHealthFX