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Ask SHIC: Are all cold sores herpes?

Dear SHIC,

It’s that time of year again and I’m getting cold sores, but what I’m confused about is whether or not cold sores are herpes. Are they? What about genital herpes? Can I give someone genital herpes if I have a cold sore and perform oral sex on them?

-Dealing with the cold (sore)

Dear Dealing with the cold (sore),

Let me begin by saying that herpes is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that any sexually active person can contract. In fact, it affects up to 80 percent of the United States population. There are two strains of herpes: herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 and 2 are practically identical since they share approximately 50 percent of their DNA. The difference between these two strains is their site of preference; HSV-1 usually infects the lower lip or face while HSV-2 usually infects the genital area. So to answer your first question, oral herpes and cold sores are the same thing.

Many people who are infected with herpes have no visible symptoms. Although genital herpes are considered less common than oral herpes, both strains may be expressed orally and genitally. So, this means that a person with a cold sore who performs oral sex on another person could give that person genital lesions. Also, a person who performs oral sex on someone with genital herpes can develop oral lesions. It is important to note that genital herpes is no more dangerous than a cold sore since both of the virus strains are very similar.

The herpes simplex virus is unlikely to cause significant health issues for most people. Arguably, herpes is more socially stigmatized than detrimental for your health. While there is currently no cure for herpes, there are a number of medications that can decrease the number of outbreaks you have and also shorten the healing time. You can also prevent spreading oral herpes through oral sex by using dental dams (squares pieces of latex). It is important to remember that HSV-1 and HSV-2 can still be transmitted even though you do not have any visible sores. Living with herpes does not have to be as difficult as people make it out to be! Although there is a very strong social stigma associated with having herpes (or any STD for that matter), remember that herpes and STDs are very common and that you are not an anomaly. We at SHIC are always open and willing to talk to you about anything sexually health related!



Dear SHIC,

I just found out someone I had sex with has chlamydia.  What are the signs of chlamydia? What do I do if I have it?!?


-Worried Sick

Dear Worried Sick,

First off, take a deep breath.  These things happen, and while they are unfortunate and can be awkward, life will go on.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can easily be cured.  You can get chlamydia by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has chlamydia. If you’ve had chlamydia and were treated in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with someone who has chlamydia.

Most people who have chlamydia have no symptoms, and if they do have symptoms, they pop up several weeks after you’ve had sex with a partner. Some signs women notice are abnormal discharge and a burning sensation when urinating. Some men notice discharge from their penis, a burning sensation when urinating and pain and swelling in one or both testicles. Even though a person may not have symptoms, chlamydia can do damage to your reproductive system, so I would make sure to go to a health care provider (Planned Parenthood, a family planning facility, doctor’s office) to be tested for chlamydia. The test is quick and mostly painless. Most places will use a urine sample to test, though some may use a cotton swab to get a sample. You should receive your results quickly: generally within a couple days or so.

Okay now the potentially scary part …THE RESULTS! If you’re positive, don’t sweat it, it happens. Just make sure to take care of yourself and your sex partner(s). You will receive a prescription for antibiotics that should clear you up. Be sure to take all the medication you are provided with. If you were prescribed a single dose of medication you should wait seven days after taking the medicine before having sex. If you are prescribed a medicine for you to take for seven days, you should wait until you have taken all of the doses before having sex. If you are negative, congrats, but be sure to be careful still. You don’t have anything now, and let’s try to keep it that way. The only way to COMPLETELY avoid STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but not everyone’s about that life, so a good way to be extra safe would be to use latex condoms correctly every time you have sex. Also getting tested regularly will give you less to worry about.  Get tested ASAP and be safe!

Best of luck <3


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