Herpes, that is the herpes simplex virus, is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. There are two types of the herpes simplex virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Either of these viruses can infect the mouth and lips, the penis and scrotum, and the anus. Herpes is fairly common. However, only about 10% of people with herpes ever have an outbreak.
Herpes causes painful skin sores. When these occur around the mouth they are referred to as cold sores. It is important to know cold sores have nothing to do with the common cold. Cold sores are caused by herpes, and the virus can be transmitted from the lip to the penis when sucking cock or to the anus when rimming.
Herpes can also cause a painful skin rash on the penis, scrotum, inner thighs, and around the anus. An outbreak typically appears as a painful, red rash in the same localized area. The rash may contain blisters or skin ulcers, and usually lasts 14-20 days. The first outbreak is always the worst. Subsequent outbreaks tend to be shorter and less severe. The number of outbreaks and the time between outbreaks varies greatly between individuals. Some people only ever have one outbreak, some people get outbreaks only rarely, and some people get outbreaks frequently. Usually people will feel an itchy and tingling sensation in the area just prior to an outbreak.
Herpes is usually diagnosed by simple appearance and recognition. Once someone has had an outbreak they are usually very good at recognizing the onset of a subsequent outbreak as well as the itchy, tingling sensation that often precedes an outbreak. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may swab the skin during an outbreak or if there are blisters present, one of these can be gently opened to swab the fluid inside. The swab will then be sent to the lab to detect the virus. If this is done, the swab has to be collected at the beginning of the outbreak. Once the rash starts to subside, the virus may not be detected.
There is no cure for herpes, but there are effective medicines to treat outbreaks. These medications include acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). These medications will shorten the duration of an outbreak and speed healing, but to be effective they must be started as soon as symptoms begin. If you have frequent outbreaks, suppressive therapy with daily medication may be an option.
Herpes is shed from the skin where the outbreak occurs. Condoms may provide some protection depending on where the herpes virus is located. Although low levels of the virus may be shed from the skin even in the absence of a rash, you should abstain from sex when you have an outbreak. And if you have a cold sore on your lip, do not suck cock or rim someone. Daily medication can reduce viral shedding and may be something to consider.