The herpes virus has long been shrouded in the mystery of fear. Whether they’re cold sores or genital herpes, even the idea can send people running in the other direction. Unfortunately, while it’s important to take precautions to keep yourself safe, there are also a lot of misconceptions about the virus.
Here are some important facts about herpes you should know before you jump to conclusions.
1. It’s super common
That’s right, 48 percent of people have the oral herpes virus, according to a report published in February 2018 by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One out of every 8 people has genital herpes. As many as 90 percent of Americans have been exposed to the virus, according to the National Institutes of Health.
2. Outbreaks aren’t the only symptoms
Many men and women don’t know they have herpes because they don’t have the usual symptoms. In fact, the CDC reports some may not even experience an outbreak. During the first outbreak, many people experience flu-like symptoms, including a fever, headaches, body aches or swollen glands. Other symptoms can include pain in the lower back, unusual vaginal discharge or burning when urinating.
3. Pregnancy brings on outbreaks
Both cold sore and genital herpes outbreaks can be more common during pregnancy. If you experience cold sores while pregnant, consult your doctor before taking any medications.
4. Avoid facial peels during an outbreak
Believe it or not, you should avoid facial peels or waxing if you have an outbreak because treatments like this can spread the herpes virus and cause outbreaks all over your face. Disturbing? Absolutely. Good to know? Most definitely. “If you have a history of cold sores, you may want to talk to your dermatologist before you even attempt waxing your lip,” Rebecca Kazin, a board-certified dermatologist with the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, tells Women’s Health.
5. Outbreaks are contagious from the first tingle
It isn’t just the blister that will spread the virus. The virus can actually be spread from the first tingle until it is completely healed, which can take weeks. From the moment you feel an outbreak, you should take precautions not to spread the virus.
6. You can’t spread herpes to your dog
Dogs can get herpes, but it is a different strain of the virus than the one humans get. You cannot spread the virus to your dog, and your dog can’t spread the virus to you. So no worries, dog lovers — his kisses may not be the cleanest in the world, but you’re not going to get a cold sore from loving on your pup.
7. It’s not the end of the world
Whether they’re cold sores or genital herpes, the symptoms are manageable. Though there is no cure for herpes, outbreaks can be managed and symptoms greatly reduced.
8. Herpes isn’t always recurring
Dr. Vanessa Cullins, formerly the vice president of external medical affairs at Planned Parenthood and currently an obstetrician-gynecologist in New York, told Teen Vogue that some people don’t experience outbreak recurrence. “Some people rarely have recurrences. Others have them often. Herpes is most likely to recur in the first year after infection. Recurrences may be more frequent for people with weakened immune systems,” Cullins explained.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2016.