How Can I Avoid Spreading Herpes

Herpes Facts

  • Herpes is a disease that causes open sores to appear on the mouth and genitals.
  • Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus, of which there are two types.
  • Herpes that appear on the mouth are caused by HSV 1, and genital herpes are caused by HSV 2.
  • Herpes is a very common disease: 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 12 have herpes.
  • Herpes cannot be cured. Once you have herpes, you have it for life. For this reason, it is especially important to prevent herpes from spreading.

There are some important measures you can take to protect other people from contracting herpes. The only thing you can do to be 100% sure you will not transmit the virus is to abstain completely from all sexual contact. However, for many people this is not an option. If you want to remain sexually active, you can take the following precautions:

Avoid sexual contact during outbreaks.

  • If you are having an outbreak, abstain from sexual contact. You are much more likely to be contagious when you have an active outbreak. This includes abstaining from oral, genital, and anal sex.
  • Abstain from sexual contact until the sores are completely healed.
  • Although oral herpes and genital herpes are usually caused by different strains of HSV, there can be some crossover. HSV 1, which normally causes oral herpes, can be transferred to the genital region, and vice-versa. You should take proper measures to prevent this from happening, for example, if you are having an oral herpes outbreak, do not give your partner oral sex.

Avoid sexual contact if you sense an imminent outbreak.

Much of the time, you will be able to anticipate an outbreak by noticing the following symptoms in the area where sores normally appear:

  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Muscle aches

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should abstain from sexual contact. You will have increased contagiousness at this point.

Take precautions even when you are not having an outbreak.

Herpes can be spread even when you are not having an outbreak. The virus can shed from the skin at any point. This is called "asymptomatic shedding."

  • Always use a condom. Although this is not 100% effective at preventing herpes transmission, it greatly reduces the risk.
  • Female condoms may provide more protection since they cover a larger area.
  • If you wish to engage in oral sex, use a latex dental dam to protect your partner.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners you have. If you are in a monogamous relationship and practice safe sex (using a condom, avoiding sex during outbreaks), the likelihood of transmission is only 10% per year.
  • There are medications you can take to reduce the likelihood of transmitting herpes. Ask your health practitioner to find out which ones might work best for you.
  • Keeping a healthy immune system will reduce your outbreaks.
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