How Is Herpes Transmitted?

The transmission of herpes depends if it is HSV-1 or HSV-2. Whatever the case, learn the signs of infection and ways to prevent getting it.

Herpes is contagious and can be transmitted when it is active in your body. The type of herpes we are discussing today is Herpes Simplex Type I or II. This is an STD or sexually transmitted disease. What this means is when you have an active herpes breakout, you may spread it to others that you have sexual intimacy with.

If you want to understand how herpes is transmitted, it is important to know that herpes affects 15% of the population between the ages of 14 and 49 years. If you or a person you are sexually intimate with has a herpes lesion that is active then herpes can easily be spread.

How Is Herpes Transmitted?

Herpes is transmitted via secretions in the oral and genital mucosa during active infection. There may or may not be lesions when the infection is active and the mucosa may appear completely normal.

If a person has an HSV-1 cold sore in their mouth, herpes can be transmitted to the genitals during oral sex. HSV-2 occurs in the genitals and can be sexually transmitted from genitals to genitals during sex.

It is possible that someone may not even know they have herpes and have an infection without lesions. If there is a lesion during active infection, the virus will shed for around 20 days during and after the lesion has healed.

The virus does not shed during inactive times and during times that medication is used to suppress virus activity. Still, it is important to know that the active herpes virus may still be shedding from body fluids in the mouth, vagina, penis and even the rectum.

One myth that needs to be dispelled is that you will most likely not catch herpes from a toilet seat. Skin on skin contact is virtually the only way that herpes is transmitted. Sinks, bathtubs and showers are all safe from catching the virus. The only transmission risk is sharing cups and silverware used by someone with oral herpes.

How do You Know If You Have Herpes?

How is herpes transmitted? If you are sexually active and do not use condoms for protection, you may be at higher risk for herpes. If you share cups or silverware with someone who has active oral herpes, you may be at higher risk. Since the virus can lie dormant for periods of time and during incubation (about 2 to 12 days after you are exposed), you may not know you’ve contracted herpes and need to watch for symptoms. Many people do not know they are infected or mistake any milder symptoms for something else. The symptoms include:

  • Small blisters near the mouth, sexual organs or rectal opening
  • Ulcers or open sores
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Swelling of lymph nodes
  • Headaches
  • Tingling in areas of infection
  • Localized pain
  • Shooting pain in hips, buttocks, legs

Some of these symptoms are considered “prodromal” or a phase before the virus becomes active. People who suffer from active herpes often know they are about to have a flare before it even happens. This is helpful to take preventative measures to stop transmission to others.

How to Prevent Spreading Herpes

Once the question, “How is herpes transmitted?” is answered, you will want to take steps to prevent spreading the virus. While you may do everything you can, you can never fully stop the risk of transmitting herpes. However, you can reduce the risk. Here are some helpful tips to use during outbreaks:

1.    Discuss Herpes with Your Partner(s)

If you know you have herpes, it is a very important responsibility to discuss this with anyone you have sexual or oral contact with. Your partner should understand the things that need to be done to prevent the spread of the virus. Often, people worry that the other person will not want to be with them and it can be very difficult to discuss. Most often, people are very understanding and appreciative that you told them.

2.    Abstinence During Outbreaks

You and your partner will need to understand that abstinence is best during an active herpes outbreak. Get to know the “prodromal” symptoms that happen before an outbreak and avoid intimate contact with the affected areas. If there is any pain, tingling or burning feeling it is important to avoid sex or kissing. Just doing this has prevented transmission in a very large number of people.

3.    Use Anti-Virals

You can ask your doctor for an anti-viral medication and/or there are helpful medicinal herbs that can reduce the amount of shedding from the virus during outbreaks. Some people take them daily whether they are having an outbreak or not to reduce the number and frequency of outbreaks.

4.    Use Condoms

Use a condom with each sexual contact. Condoms can help protect the mucous membranes near any lesions and help prevent the mixing of infected body fluids at the site. Studies show this can cut the risk of transmission by nearly 50 percent. Any uncovered areas still have a risk for transmitting the virus.

The Good News

Since the herpes virus is carried in the body for life, many people feel it is a “life-sentence.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. With proper management, most people with herpes live a mostly normal life with few interruptions to their routine.

The good news is that herpes vaccines are in the works. At the time of this writing, there are ongoing clinical trials to make an effective vaccine. None have been approved to date, but this is very hopeful for the future.



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