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Myths and Misconceptions about Herpes: What’s True and What’s False

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Perhaps the best tool we have to fight the social stigma of herpes is information. Ignorance and misinformation create fear and fuel the development of stigmatizing attitudes and behavior. As a knowledgeable reader of The Helper, you can easily separate fact from fiction, myth from reality. But for others in your life who may be less informed, we’ve created this list of the most common misconceptions about herpes to arm you with the language and facts to use to educate others. Consider it a handy clip-and save piece to pass on to a friend!

False: It’s shameful to have genital herpes.
True: Anyone who has ever had sex can get genital herpes. It’s not about being clean, dirty, bad or good—it’s about being sexually active. A person can get genital herpes if they receive oral sex, if they have vaginal sex, if they have anal sex, or if their genitals touch another person’s genitals. Nearly 1 out of 4 people in the U. S. have genital herpes.

False: People know if they have genital herpes.
True: Most people who have herpes do not know it. As many as 90% of people who have genital herpes do not know they have it because they have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Many people have symptoms, but don’t think they are caused by herpes.

False: Many exams and screenings check for herpes.
True: Pap tests, routine physical exams and most STI screenings do not check for herpes. If a person has symptoms of genital herpes, getting a viral culture is best. If there are no symptoms present, a blood test can be done. There are many blood tests, but some are not accurate. A “type-specific IgG blood test” is best.

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