Herpes Transmission Facts
The medical field has classified both strains of the Herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2) as members of the herpes virus family, Herpesviridae which can infect humans. Both types are contagious; the HSV-1 produces cold sores while the other HSV-2 leads most of the time to genital herpes. Transmission from one person to another occurs primarily when the infected person is shedding the virus.
Transmission of Herpes
Both types of herpes can be transmitted through skin to skin contact, oral sex, sexual intercourse and kissing when there is a visible sore present. Couples should therefore abstain from oral sex and intercourse during outbreaks in order to reduce transmission of herpes from one partner to another. The risk of transmission is reduced through the use of condoms although this will not completely remove the risk.
It is also possible to transmit the disease even during the times when the symptoms are not visible. Prodromal symptoms such as tingling and itching before the sore appears are a warning that the virus is present on the skin even though there is no visible sign. It is possible to spread the disease during this time as well and risks last until the skin has healed completely.
Viral shedding occurs when the virus sheds on the surface of the skin when the infection takes place. Symptoms may not be present during viral shedding but there is a small risk of herpes transmission if there is contact with the area.
Rates and Risks of Herpes Transmission
The risk of spreading the virus depends on gender but is significantly reduced if there is no contact with the affected area during outbreaks.
The risk of a woman with genital herpes spreading the disease to her partner is only 3% per year if they abstain from intercourse when there is an active breakout. The risk of a man spreading genital herpes is higher, close to 8% under the same conditions. The use of condoms or suppressive drugs would further reduce this risk by 40% in both cases.
Risks of transmission are much lower with HSV-1 in the genitals or HSV-2 in the mouth.
Genital Herpes Transmission
Statistics report the occurrence of genital herpes as occurring in 1 out of every 10 persons yet few people refuse to talk about it or admit that they have it. The disease can be transmitted through oral, vaginal and anal intercourse even when there are no symptoms present. In some cases the newly infected person may not know that they have the disease for some time since the virus can lay dormant for long periods without showing any symptoms.
Genital herpes transmission can also take place if a partner has a cold sore and performs oral sex. Even if there is no visible sore present on the mouth at the time of contact there is still a possibility of transmission from the mouth to the genitals.
The risks of transmission of genital herpes can be reduced if certain activities are limited when there are outbreaks or even when there are minor symptoms like itching or irritation of the skin.
Oral Herpes Transmission
Oral herpes transmission generally occurs through skin to skin contact with the infected area. Kissing when there is visible sore can spread the virus. The incubation period for the virus can be anyway between two and twelve days after infection. The virus remains dormant in the body and can flare up producing symptoms two to five times a year throughout the life of the person.
Herpes Can Be Prevented
With proper care it is possible to prevent the transmission of herpes to a partner. In some cases prevention is a simple matter of avoiding sexual activity when there is an outbreak and using protection when there are no visible symptoms to avoid transmission through viral shedding.
If a couple chooses not to use condoms they need to avoid intercourse during outbreaks. In fact intercourse should be avoided even at the first signs of an outbreak when minor itching or irritation occurs. Engaging in sexual activity during an episode will prolong the recovery and it is important to keep in mind that the virus can also be transmitted through cuts and abrasions on the surface of the skin.
Reducing the risks of herpes transmission
Although the risks of transmission cannot be completely eliminated there are some ways to reduce the risks.
- Be upfront with a partner: Let your partner know your condition. Get the facts and follow the steps recommend to prevent transmission.
- Avoid sexual contact when it’s risky: For both oral and genital herpes it is important to avoid sexual contact a few days before and after the outbreak when the virus is most contagious.
- Limit the number of sexual partners: Monogamy reduces the risk of transmitting herpes to other people.
- Latex condoms and dental dams: These help to prevent transmission during outbreaks. Although condoms are not always 100% foolproof they do cover vulnerable membranes and infected areas in some cases.
- Medication: There are a number of treatments on the market that will help to reduce instances of viral shedding. By using these medications it will minimize the risks of transmission when there are no outbreaks.