Herpes Myths To Stop Freaking Out About
A surprising number of people you know probably have herpes.
Shocked? You shouldnt be, since the virus is very common. According to the World Health Organization, 3.7 billion people under age 50 have herpes simplex virus type 1 thats 67 percent of the global population in that age bracket. Another 417 million people between ages 15 and 49 worldwide have herpes simplex virus type 2 .
Many people consider HSV-1 more benign, but it turns out theres not much difference between the two types of virus. While its true that HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted disease and can cause genital sores or blisters, type 1 can do the same thing.
One big misconception is that cold sores are caused by HSV-1 and genital herpes are always type 2, but thats not always the case, says Sarah Vensel, a physician assistant in San Francisco. Cold sores are so common theyve been normalized at this point. But genital herpes is sometimes the exact same virus just in a different location.
Not only is herpes incredibly common its also totally manageable. Allow us to set your mind at ease and debunk three widespread herpes myths:
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How Is It Spread
Herpes is passed from person-to-person by direct skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the virus , even without visible herpes sores.
It also is possible to pass herpes if one person touches the part of their body that has herpes and then immediately touches another persons mouth or genitals. Sharing sex toys without changing condoms or washing toys may also pass the virus. During a primary first outbreak, it is possible to pass the virus to another area of that persons own body, by touching the sores and then touching another part of their body .
The chance of passing herpes is highest when there is an active outbreak . However, HSV can still be passed when there are no symptoms , but this is less likely. Women who have an active outbreak in late pregnancy can pass the infection to their baby during a vaginal childbirth.
Why Do Outbreaks Happen In The First Place
If you are one of the people who gets outbreaks from HSV, your first outbreak is very likely to occur a couple weeks after you are infected. This is your body reacting to the new virus inside it. But after that, blisters only pop up every once and a while. They are triggered by a few things that you can do your best to minimize . These include changes in your health, such as an infection, fever, or any shifts in your immune system, changes in your menstrual cycle, sun exposure, stress, and anything that lowers your immune system so that it canât fight off the virus from bursting onto the scene.
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How Can You Avoid Genital Herpes
Most women get genital herpes through sexual contactwith a person who has herpes sores. You can get thevirus without having sex. To avoid infection:
- Avoid skin-to-skin and sexual contact.
- Have safer sex:
- Reduce the number of sexual partners.
- Condoms, when used correctly, can reduce therisk of getting genital herpes. Each time you have sexuse a condom :
- Before vaginal sex
- Before oral sex
For more information, see Safer Sex.
Symptomatic Versus Asymptomatic Herpes Transmission
This table summarizes the chance of transmission of herpes when a person is symptomatic and when he or she is asymptomatic .
The table presents information about the overall chance of getting a herpes infection over time, with multiple contacts. Please notice that infected people pass the infection regardless of whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic.
The percentages mentioned bellow are general estimates and may vary from person to person based on immune system strength , skin condition , and race .
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What Happens If I Dont Get Treated
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you touch your sores or the fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another part of your body, such as your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes to another part of your body. If you do touch the sores or fluids, immediately wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading your infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your developing fetus, or newborn baby. See Im pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby? above for information about this.
I Had Lesions When I Was Evaluated But My Culture Was Negative Does This Mean That I Dont Have Herpes
Not necessarily. Although lesions can be caused by something other than herpes, false negative herpes tests can occur if the samples are not taken appropriately, if there is a long transport time between the clinic and the laboratory, or if cultures were taken late in the course of the lesions. Lesions that occur early in the course of a herpes outbreak are much more likely to have positive cultures than cultures taken after the lesions crust over.
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Genital Herpes: How Can You Prevent The Spread Of Herpes In Sexual Relationships
Herpes viruses are most likely to be transmitted during an outbreak, so it’s better to not have sex during this time. Herpes can also be passed on to others in symptom-free phases, though. This risk can be reduced considerably by using condoms.
If you have genital herpes, there are some things you can do on your own to protect your partner from infection. The main things are
- not having sex during an outbreak,
- using condoms during symptom-free phases, and
- talking openly with your partner about the disease.
Preventive treatment with antiviral medication may be an option for people who have genital herpes very frequently. This medication inhibits the activity of the virus, thereby lowering the risk of infecting partners.
How Do You Know If You Have Genital Herpes
The only way to know if you have genital herpes is by amedical exam. Your health care provider can examineyou and test for it. Lab samples are taken from a sore,blister, or blood. Your health care provider may ask totest you for other infections at the same time.
Tell current and most recent sex partners of your herpes infection.
How Is Herpes Simplex Caught And Passed On
The facts about passing on/transmitting herpes are clear:
Herpes is passed directly from the affected area of skin , by direct skin to skin contact, with friction, when the virus is present.
It can be passed from the face of one person to the genitals of another through oral sex, when the virus is active.
You can pass it on from the affected area, when the virus is present on the skin surface: from the first warning signs that a recurrence is starting , through the time when there are sores or blisters, until they have healed and fresh skin has grown back.
Get this two-page summary which covers the basics.
About six in ten adults by age 25 carry herpes simplex virus type 1 and one in ten carries type 2. Even more people carry herpes simplex virus in older age groups but most dont know. Only around one in three of those infected with either type is aware of this.
How Is Herpes Transmitted Non
One way to contract herpes without having sex is through kissing. If you have HSV-1, theres a risk of passing it to someone else through saliva. Its also possible to spread the virus if you touch your mouth and then come in contact with another persons bodily fluids.
Indirect skin contact is another way you can get herpes non-sexuallyfor example, by sharing a drinking glass with someone carrying the virus. That said, this form of transmission is unlikely, as the virus can only live for a few days on moist surfaces away from the body .
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Can You Get Herpes From Drinking After Someone
The chances of getting herpes from sharing a drink with someone who has herpes even an active outbreak of herpes is next to zero.
While its unlikely youll contract herpes by sharing drinks, its always a good rule of thumb to avoid sharing glasses, dishware, or other objects, like towels or silverware, with someone you dont know or with someone you know has herpes.
Can It Lie Dormant
The herpes virus can lie dormant in the body for years before people experience any symptoms.
After people have the first outbreak of herpes, the virus then lies dormant in the nervous system. Any further outbreaks are due to the virus reactivating, which causes symptoms to appear.
Symptoms are usually less severe during repeat outbreaks. Sores also clear up more quickly, often within 37 days. This is due to the antibodies the body produces to fight the first outbreak of herpes. The body can then use these antibodies to respond more quickly to future outbreaks.
There is currently no cure for herpes. Even if a person stops experiencing symptoms, the virus will remain inside their body.
It is also important to point out that herpes is transmissible even when no sores or other symptoms are present. For this reason, early prevention is advisable.
Condoms and dental dams do not offer complete protection against the herpes virus, as herpes can live on areas around the genitals. However, these methods do reduce the likelihood of contracting the infection or passing it on.
A person who has herpes can also take other steps to reduce the chance of passing it on to a sexual partner. Such steps include telling their sexual partner that they have herpes before having sex.
Both people can then take additional steps to reduce the likelihood of transmission. These steps may include:
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What Is The Difference Between Genital Herpes And Genital Warts
Both genital herpes and genital warts are STIs, are spread through skin-to-skin contact, and are caused by a virus. But the viruses that cause genital herpes and genital warts are different:
- Herpes simplex virus is the virus that causes genital herpes.
- Human papillomavirus is the virus that causes genital warts.
There is no cure for either genital herpes or genital warts. But, different medicines can help manage the symptoms of herpes and treat the complications of HPV infections that can cause genital warts.
What Happens If I Dont Receive Treatment
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you touch your sores or fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another body part like your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes to another part of your body. If you do touch the sores or fluids, quickly wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading the infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your unborn fetus, or newborn baby. See Im pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby? for information about this.
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How Does Genital Herpes Affect A Pregnant Woman And Her Baby
Neonatal herpes is one of the most serious complications of genital herpes.5,16 Healthcare providers should ask all pregnant women if they have a history of genital herpes.11 Herpes infection can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth, or babies may be infected shortly after birth, resulting in a potentially fatal neonatal herpes infection. 17 Infants born to women who acquire genital herpes close to the time of delivery and are shedding virus at delivery are at a much higher risk for developing neonatal herpes, compared with women who have recurrent genital herpes . 16,18-20 Thus, it is important that women avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy. Women should be counseled to abstain from intercourse during the third trimester with partners known to have or suspected of having genital herpes. 5,11
Is Genital Herpes Infection Related To Hiv
Herpes and HIV are caused by different viruses. But patients infected with these viruses are more likely to transmit either disease to their sexual partners. Patients with herpes are more vulnerable to HIV infection. People newly diagnosed with herpes should be tested for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections.
Patients who are infected with both herpes and HIV also may have a higher concentration of HIV viruses in their body because of the interaction between the herpes virus and the HIV virus. When HIV damages a persons immune system, the person may be more likely to shed herpes simplex virus asymptomatically.
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How Can I Best Learn To Cope With Herpes Simplex
Some people feel distressed or embarrassed about their herpes simplex infection. Its important to understand that the herpes virus is common. For most people, herpes doesnt significantly interfere with daily life.
To cope with negative feelings, you may consider:
- Connecting with others through support groups or online forums.
- Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend or loved one.
- Speaking with a therapist.
Treatment The First Time You Have Genital Herpes
You may be prescribed:
- antiviral medicine to stop the symptoms getting worse you need to start taking this within 5 days of the symptoms appearing
- cream for the pain
If you have had symptoms for more than 5 days before you go to a sexual health clinic, you can still get tested to find out the cause.
Valacyclovir Tablets Are Used In Adults:
- to treat cold sores
- to treat shingles
- to treat or control genital herpes outbreaks in adults with normal immune systems
- to control genital herpes outbreaks in adults infected with the human immunodeficiency virus with CD4 + cell count greater than 100 cells/mm3
- with safer sex practices to lower the chances of spreading genital herpes to uninfected partners. Even with safer sex practices, it is still possible to spread genital herpes. Valacyclovir tablets used daily with the following safer sex practices can lower the chances of passing genital herpes to your partner.
- Do not have sexual contact with your partner when you have any symptom or outbreak of genital herpes.
- Use a condom made of latex or polyurethane whenever you have sexual contact.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What is the best treatment for me?
- What are the side effects of antiviral medications?
- How can I reduce the risk of future outbreaks?
- Whats the best way to prevent getting another STI?
- How can I protect my partner from getting genital herpes?
- Should I look out for signs of complications?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Millions of people are living with the herpes virus that causes genital herpes. Its a common STI. You shouldnt be embarrassed or put off seeking medical care if you develop symptoms. Treatments can ease symptoms, reduce outbreaks and protect sexual partners from infection. Having the virus shouldnt affect your relationships or sexual health. However, you do need to tell your sexual partners that you have the virus. Your healthcare provider can discuss ways to prevent spreading this STI.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/23/2020.
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What Is Neonatal Herpes
Neonatal herpes can be a very serious infection. Babies generally contract the virus from their birthing parent during childbirth even if the parent doesnt have active lesions. They may also get HSV-1 if an adult with an active cold sore kisses them. Breastfeeding babies can also get HSV-1 from the breast if there are lesions present. But babies cant get herpes from breast milk, so its safe to pump and feed.
Herpes simplex can be more dangerous for young babies because they dont have a fully developed immune system. But most babies with neonatal herpes can recover fully with treatment.
The dangers of neonatal herpes are much higher if the infection spreads to the babys organs. If youre pregnant and have herpes, speak with your healthcare provider about how to lower the risk of passing the infection to your baby.
Could I Pass Herpes Simplex To A Partner If I Have No Symptoms
This sometimes happens but is not likely. When the virus is inactive inside the nerve cells it cannot be caught by a partner. If there is virus on the skin surface where you get your symptoms, it may be passed on.
Before the outbreak begins, there may be a tingly or itchy feeling at the place where this will happen. This means that diagnosed people are less likely to pass it one when there is nothing to see on the skin, because they are usually more aware of these prodromes , whereas undiagnosed people often ignore highly infectious and obvious symptoms, because they do not know what they are. This is not asymptomatic as you can feel something and you should not have sex at this time.
Asymptomatic shedding means without sensation and a scientific test can virus on the skin when the person feels nothing. This applies to type 2. Type 1 doesnt like the genital region and is less likely to recur and to shed asymptomatically. This happens only in some people, mostly in the first six months. After a year or two, if a person is not having many outbreaks, they will rarely have virus on the skin without symptoms.
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