Did you know that 1 in 6 teens and adults in the U.S. has been infected with genital herpes? With statistics like that, it’s likely that at some point you will probably have sexual contact with someone who has this infection. In fact, many people who have genital herpes aren’t even aware of their condition unless they undergo herpes testing. Being informed about this highly common and contagious sexually transmitted disease (STD) is your best protection from contracting it. Here are some of the most important things you should know about genital herpes:

The Genital Herpes Virus Explained

When you hear the term ‘herpes,’ the thought of an STD probably comes to mind. However, it might surprise you to know that the same herpes simplex virus (HSV) that causes cold sores also causes genital herpes. There are two types of the virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2, however, HSV-1 (of the lips and mouth) can also cause genital herpes if there is contact through oral sex. Both of these viruses can cause painful sores on the genitals, anal area or buttocks of those infected.

Preventing Genital Herpes

The only absolute protection from contracting genital herpes, or any STD for that matter, is to abstain from sexual contact completely or stay in a monogamous relationship with another individual who is STD-free. However, the next best option for herpes prevention is to always use latex condoms when engaging in sexual contact. Keep in mind that the virus is most contagious during a breakout, also called a flare-up, so it’s best to avoid sex during that time if your partner has the infection.

How To Know If You Have Herpes

Herpes affects each individual differently. Some who contract herpes may have painful, noticeable outbreaks while others may not even be aware that they have the disease and think it’s just a minor skin condition. Unfortunately, those who have herpes but don’t realize it are most likely to pass the infection on to others unknowingly. If you think you may have genital herpes, the best way to find out for sure is to look into herpes testing. You can do this by visiting your doctor for herpes testing or going through independent herpes testing and STD testing centers that can also determine whether or not you have been infected with the disease.

What To Do If You Contract Herpes

While there is no cure for herpes that will eliminate breakouts completely, there are options available to minimize the severity of breakouts or the timeframe in which they occur. If you do find you have contracted the disease after receiving herpes testing, one of the most common treatments is an antiviral pill that can be prescribed by your doctor. These can be taken only when breakouts occur or as a suppressive treatment (on a regular basis) to prevent outbreaks from happening often.