So you have herpes. You’re not alone— roughly 70% of the population carries the HSV-1 virus and about 1 in 6 American teenagers and adults have been infected by HSV-2. Needless to say, it’s a common affliction and any surviving stigma around it is behind the times.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed, you may be wondering, “now what?” Can I take a sip of someone else’s drink without putting them at risk? Will kissing my partner infect them? Is oral sex safe? These are all questions that are critical to ask and know the answers to. While herpes shouldn’t dramatically alter your day to day routine or lifestyle, it does require your caution, awareness and knowledge. Here is a guide to sharing with herpes.
Let’s start with a general introduction to the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV causes infection to the mucous membranes and skin. There are over 80 kinds of herpes viruses—HSV falls into a group that’s also home to the varicella-zoster virus, the culprit of chicken pox and shingles. The word herpes itself actually stems from a Greek word that means “to creep.” According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, this alludes to the, “unique characteristic pattern of all herpes viruses to "creep along" local nerve pathways to the nerve clusters at the end, where they remain in an inactive state for variable periods of time” (5). The same individual can be infected by both HSV-1 and HSV-2.
HSV-1 is commonly referred to as “oral herpes”, though the virus can spread to the genital area through oral sex. It typically results in cold sores and fever blisters on and around the mouth. For the majority of those infected, it remains dormant and no symptoms are experienced. Most contract HSV-1 during childhood, usually between the ages of six months and three, through a nonsexual exchange of saliva (3). The risk of HSV-1 spreading is highest when there is direct contact with sores or blisters from an outbreak. Therefore, when you’re experiencing an outbreak, refrain from kissing, oral sex, sharing lipstick, lip balms, eating utensils, cigarettes, toothbrushes, razors or anything that touches the mouth region until symptoms disappear.
The good news is that when HSV-1 and HSV-2 are inactive, they can’t be spread. Unfortunately though, the viruses can be active and produce no symptoms. This is called asymptomatic shedding (5). Throughout this period, both types of HSV are transmittable— so it remains important to exercise safety, especially during sex.
On the topic, genital herpes, usually called HSV-2 is only 100% preventable in the case of abstinence. It is passed through vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as from mother to baby during childbirth. This means that if you are a carrier of HSV-2, you are obligated to be candid with potential sexual partners about having the virus and should you engage in sexual activity, limit your risk of spreading it through the following: the use of latex condoms, water-based lubricant without spermicides (spermicides can irritate the genital area, making STDs more easily transmittable), dental damns during oral sex and regulating your number of sexual partners. An additional thing to note, just as oral herpes (HSV-1) can be spread to the genitals through oral sex, HSV-2 can also spread to the mouth region through oral sex. HSV-1 is reportedly responsible for nearly half of all new cases of genital herpes in first world countries (5). With this in mind, while of course there’s the chance that asymptomatic shedding is occurring at any time, if you have either type of herpes it’s highly recommended to refrain from during an outbreak— from the initial tingles until the sores are totally healed up. Another suggested step is to keep outbreaks to a minimum through the continual use of an anti-herpes medication. Aeura is an all-natural, non-prescriptive option that has proven effectiveness at both preventing and alleviating herpes and cold sores.
Given the information above, it’s safe to assume that it’s almost impossible to completely prevent the transmission of the HSV-1 or HSV-2 herpes virus. Though there are certainly methods to reduce the chances of giving it to loved ones, especially when experiencing an outbreak. As a condition that effects a large part of the population, if you’re infected with oral or genital herpes it’s vital to use precaution, stay informed and in tune with your body. It is important to let any intimate partners know up front. The more people know, the more we can prevent the spreading of the virus. Herpes shouldn’t be a deterrent of affection or sharing in anyone’s life, merely it should be used as a guideline of how and when to do it.
Simple Guidelines To Avoid Spreading Herpes
When you feel an outbreak coming or when you have blisters present follow these simple guidelines to avoid spreading the virus.
Avoid Skin-to-Skin Contact – Skin-to-skin contact is the easiest way to spread the virus. The virus spreads most easily when there are moist secretions from the blisters.
Avoid Sharing Items – Don’t share any items that touch blisters including utensils, cups, bottles, towels, lip balm, etc.
Wash Your Hands – When you have a blister, wash your hands carefully before touching yourself, other people, and especially babies.
Following these basic guidelines, using some common sense, and applying some caution can help you from spreading HSV-1 and HSV-2.
About Asymptomatic Shedding
Asymptomatic Shedding is the trickiest part of avoiding spreading the virus. Here are some things to understand about it.
- Asymptomatic shedding is higher within the first 3 months of a first outbreak.
- Shedding is higher in genital herpes caused by HSV-2 than those caused by HSV-.1
- There is a likelihood of shedding 7 days after an outbreak has cleared.
- The rate of shedding decreases after the first year of contracting virus.
- Daily antivirals are shown to reduce shedding by more than 90%