From a medical standpoint, herpes is a manageable and suppressible disease caused by infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV). This means that with appropriate treatment, a person can reduce their risk of an outbreak or sores. However, HSV has no cure, and once infected, it remains dormant in your body.
It’s therefore important to be aware of the facts about HSV and discuss your concerns with your partner in order to keep each other safe.
What is HSV and how does it spread?
In most cases, herpes blisters heal without long-term scarring. The recurrence rate is about 33% for people with oral herpes and 50% for those with genital herpes. More facts about HSV include the following:
- HSV spreads by skin-to-skin contact with a rash and can be sexually transmitted (oral, vaginal, and anal sex). It can also spread by sharing sex toys.
- Women with active genital herpes can pass on the infection to their babies while giving birth.
- It is highly contagious between the time when symptoms first appear and blisters or sores completely heal.
- Both oral and genital herpes can spread even in the absence of sores. This is called asymptomatic shedding. It is extremely important to be aware of this because there is about a 10% chance you can get herpes infection from a person who is asymptomatic yet shedding the virus.
- People who have active herpes can start dating and engaging in sexual contact once they have been treated and recovered (after at least 7 days after the rash goes away), but it is important that they are honest with their partners.
- Using condoms may reduce the risk of herpes transmission but will not eliminate the risk completely.
What are signs and symptoms of herpes?
There are two types of HSV:
- Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1): Mostly affects the mouth and surrounding skin.
- Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2): Causes herpes around the genital organs and buttocks and even oral rash in cases of oral sex.
Symptoms develop 2-20 days after the initial exposure to HSV. Initial signs may include:
- Itching, burning, pain, or tingling around the mouth or genitals
- Sores or blisters around the mouth or genitals
Other signs and symptoms may include:
When herpes recurs, symptoms are similar to those during the initial infection but may be less severe, and the recovery period is typically shorter.
How to deal with the fact that your partner has herpes
Although there is a stigma associated with the disease, about 1 in 6 people between ages 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. It’s therefore a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that any sexually active person may unknowingly contract if they were exposed to herpes simplex virus (HSV) in a previous relationship.
If your boyfriend or girlfriend is upfront with you about being infected, you may appreciate their candor rather than judge them for it. Remember that with the right medication, open conversations, and abstinence during the outbreak of a rash, you can minimize the chance of getting infected.
It’s important to talk to your partner, educate yourself about herpes, and correct myths that may be causing undue alarm. Herpes may cause certain limitations in your sex life and intimacy, and you will need to be cautious. However, in most cases, herpes does not have to be a deal breaker.
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