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Sex Myth: I Can Only Give Someone Genital Herpes If I Have Herpes Symptoms

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Updated February 03, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A lot of people believe that they can't give someone genital herpes when they don't have herpes symptoms. However, this isn't true. Many herpes infections are transmitted by people who have asymptomatic infections, and still more are transmitted by people who have herpes symptoms but don't recognize them as an STD.

Although genital herpes levels are highest in the genital track during and immediately before an outbreak, asymptomatic shedding can take place even when someone has no herpes symptoms. A large study published in JAMA in April 2011 found that individuals who had genital herpes but no herpes symptoms had detectable levels of virus in their systems approximately 10 percent of the time. People who had herpes symptoms shed the virus about twice as often.

It is important to spread the word and fight the myth that people can not transmit genital herpes when they don't have herpes symptoms. Fortunately, there are several things a person with genital herpes can do to reduce the chance of infecting their partner.

If you have genital herpes and your partner does not:

  1. DO avoid having sex during an outbreak, or at least restrict your sexual activities to ones that won't bring your partner in contact with your sores.
  2. DON'T pop or otherwise disturb sores to try and make them go away faster.
  3. DO consider suppressive therapy to reduce both the frequency of outbreaks and the likelihood of transmission.
  4. DO consistently practice safe sex, even if it isn't perfect at preventing transmission.
  5. DON'T neglect to disclose your infection to a new partner just because you don't often have outbreaks.

Living with herpes isn't always easy, but it helps to get all the information that you can. Understanding how infections work and how they are transmitted can make easier to both cope with your own illness and honestly communicate the risks to your partners.

Source:

Tronstein E, Johnston C, Huang ML, Selke S, Magaret A, Warren T, Corey L, Wald A. Genital shedding of herpes simplex virus among symptomatic and asymptomatic persons with HSV-2 infection. JAMA. 2011 Apr 13;305(14):1441-9.

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