Transmitting Herpes: How To Protect The Ones You Love
How many of you are TOTALLY confused and anxious about how herpes is transmitted? Are you afraid that you can give the virus to your friends by sharing meals? Do you worry that that intimate kiss you shared with your partner a couple of days before an outbreak exposed him or her to the virus? Do you encourage your friends to use a different toilet because you’re afraid you will give them the virus?
Here are a few basic facts on herpes:
1. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) and 2 (HSV2) are just two of 8 known human herpes viruses. Believe it or not, chicken pox is also a herpes virus.
2. The terms “genital herpes” and “oral herpes” describe where the infection is occurring, not necessarily which herpes virus is causing it.
3. HSV 1 is the virus that typically causes cold sores or fever blisters on the lips and mouth.
4. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV2.
5. Because HSV 1 usually causes cold sores, it is usually passed from person to person by kissing. It can also spread from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex. If this happens, it causes genital herpes - or herpes in the genital area. If a person HAS genital herpes due to HSV 1 , it can also be transmitted during sexual intercourse.
6. HSV 2 is usually transmitted by vaginal or anal sex. Theoretically, HSV2 can pass from a person’s genitals to a partner’s mouth during receptive oral sex causing oral herpes, but that is not commonly seen. Experts aren’t sure why.
7. While the genitals and mouth - mucous membrane areas - are the usual target of the HSV1 and 2 infection, the infection can also target the cervix and urethra. Also susceptible are warm, moist areas such as the upper thighs, hairline, underarms, lower back, scrotum and buttocks.
8. Historically, it was thought that herpes could only be spread if you had sex with a person with an outbreak - with open lesions. However, that theory was blown out of the water several years ago with the discovery of a phenomenon called viral shedding.
Researchers found that many people with a herpes infection “shed” virus in their secretions – saliva, vaginal fluids, semen or even tears – even when they don’t have an active outbreak.
9. Treatment with anti-virals may not always eliminate viral shedding. The drugs do reduce the severity and duration of an outbreak if taken right away and they DO REDUCE viral shedding. But they don’t always eliminate it.
10. A person with active herpes can spread the infection to another part of their body by masturbation, or even the use of a vibrator.
Charlotte Grayson, M.D., is an internist in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. She is a 1995 graduate of Boston University School of Medicine. She completed her internal medicine residency in 1998 at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Previously, Dr. Grayson was Senior Medical Editor for a leading healthcare content company. She frequently speaks to the media about health, appearing on Fox News and CNN and contributing to TIME, Real Simple, Women’s Health, and WebMD magazines.