Think of the herpes simplex virus infection and you may get a flashback of the images of the infection from your high school health class but, what if we were to tell you that this common sexually transmitted disease (STD) doesn’t always look or appear a certain way? As a matter of fact, most people with the disease don’t experience any symptoms and may not even realize they have contracted the disease.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around one out of every six people between the ages of 14-49 have genital herpes . While estimates predict that around 80% of those people experience little to no symptoms when symptoms do appear , they can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions, including:
See also: What is Herpes? How to Deal With a Herpes Diagnosis
Can herpes be confused with something else?
Pain, itching, and general discomfort are all common signs of genital herpes but it may go without saying that they can also be a sign of a number of other conditions and common sexually transmitted infections.
If you think you may have contracted herpes, it’s important to get tested either with your doctor or with an at-home lab test. It’s also important to find out more about what else could potentially be causing these symptoms.
Similar to herpes, most people who contract chlamydia don’t notice any symptoms. When they do appear, it’s common for them to show around 1-3 weeks after exposure, or sometimes even a few months.
Symptoms such as burning and itching around the genital area are common in those with chlamydia or herpes but there are other symptoms that differentiate this common infection such as unusual discharge and discomfort when urinating.
Keeping in theme with both herpes and chlamydia, trichomoniasis is known to show very few symptoms. In fact, the CDC state that about 70% of people with the infection experience no symptoms . If symptoms do occur, they usually show around 5-28 days after infection but can sometimes develop much later.
Itching, burning, redness, and general discomfort of the genitals are common signs of trichomoniasis, ones that can potentially be mistaken for herpes. If you’re concerned that you may have contracted either infection, it’s important to get tested.
Syphilis is transmitted through sexual contact and can have serious complications if left untreated. The signs and symptoms of the infection vary by stage, but during the very first stage (the primary stage), it’s common to notice a single sore or multiple sores in the area where the infection entered the body - this can be in and around the genitals, anus, rectum or the mouth.
Although this sore can heal without treatment, it’s important to receive the correct treatment as early as possible to prevent the infection from progressing into the next stage.
See also: Can Herpes Cause Long-Term Effects?
Can something look like herpes but not be herpes?
Genital herpes is characterized by a cluster of itchy, small red bumps or tiny white blisters which usually appear a few weeks after the infection. As the outbreak comes to an end, the skin will form scabs as the ulcers heal.
These uncomfortable bumps associated with herpes can sometimes be mistaken for other non-sexually transmitted infections such as ingrown hair, shaving or razor bumps, jock itch (tinea cruris), or genital eczema.
Unsure whether your bumps are a sign of herpes or not? Some other common signs of genital herpes infection to look out for include:
- Pain or itching in the genital area
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle ache
If you are concerned about your symptoms and want to know more, it’s important to reach out to your doctor.
See also: Can Herpes go Away on Its Own?
Is it common for herpes to be misdiagnosed?
Although the signs and symptoms of herpes may sometimes seem indistinguishable, there are a number of other conditions that can potentially be mistaken for the virus which makes proper testing essential for identifying and diagnosing herpes. Unfortunately, a visual examination without correct testing can result in misdiagnosis, and even if the diagnosis is correct - the type of herpes simply can’t be confirmed through a visual exam alone.
While HSV-2 typically causes most genital herpes, HSV-1 (which is usually associated with cold sores or fever blisters) can also be the cause of genital herpes, with cases caused by HSV-1 typically experiencing fewer outbreaks and those caused by HSV-2 experiencing recurring or frequent outbreaks . Knowing this, and knowing the herpes virus type makes it easier to understand what to expect as well as determine the best treatment options.
See also: What’s the Difference Between HSV-1 and HSV-2? Symptoms and Causes
How common are false positives for herpes?
False-positive test results refer to a test result that says a person has a certain condition or disease when in actual fact, they don't. This can happen with a number of different types of diagnostic tests and herpes testing and other sexual health tests are no exception. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "False-positive HSV-2 results can happen, especially in people who are at low risk for a herpes infection."
It's of course important to avoid false-positive test results for life-long infections such as herpes, which is why using high-quality testing kits and reliable accredited laboratories are essential to avert any confusion or false results.
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of contracting an STD is with regular screening. This can be done by taking a trip to your doctor’s office or from the comfort of your own home with an at-home lab test.
LetsGetChecked’s at-home Herpes Test can detect herpes simplex antibodies for either HSV-1 or HSV-2. Online results will be available within 5 days and our dedicated medical team will be there to offer a helping hand should you have any questions.
You should consider getting tested if:
- You used a needle or syringe to inject drugs into your body that someone with herpes has already used
- You become sexually active
- You have had unprotected sex
- You are experiencing symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease
- You are entering into a new sexual relationship
- You have received a notification from a previous partner that they are infected
- If you suspect that you have an active herpes infection, a swab by a healthcare provider may be required
See also: How do you Check for Herpes From Home?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Herpes. Online: Cdc.gov
- National Institutes of Health. Answer: Can you identify this condition? Online: Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trichomoniasis. Online: Cdc.gov
- American Sexual Health Association. Diagnosing Herpes. Online: Ashasexualhealth.org