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Herpes Prevention & Risks
Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD., July 7, 2017
How is herpes type 2 spread?
Genital herpes is spread through skin to skin contact during vaginal,
oral, or anal sex.It infects the body through a cut in the skin or a mucous
membrane around the genitals. Bodily fluids like saliva can also carry the
virus.The risk for transmitting a herpes infection is highest with sexual
contact with a person who has active HSV-2 infection, i.e, the presence of
blisters or sores.
That said, the virus can't survive outside of the body so you can't get it from toilet seats,
using someone's towel, or from trying on clothes.
What happens once the virus is transmitted?
Once the virus comes into contact with a mucosal surface (like the genitals), it begins to
replicate or reproduce. It travels through nerve cells to their "roots" where it can be dormant
or latent for many years. It's thought that during these latent times, the herpes virus cannot
be spread but current research calls this into question. Outbreaks are also known as "shedding".
During the shedding period, the virus is transmissible through
bodily fluids and can be spread to other people. Shedding can happen with or without
obvious sores. That's why herpes can often go unnoticed.
Who is at risk for herpes?
Everyone who has sex is at risk for herpes. Current
CDC data indicates that at least 16 percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 14
and 49 has genital herpes. And that's just the reported cases. And more than 80 percent of
the people who have the herpes simplex 2 virus do not know that they have the virus because
they’ve never had symptoms or been tested. Abstaining
from sex is the only way to be 100% safe from getting or spreading herpes. If you
are sexually active, a latex condom is the best way to protect yourself and your partner.
The best way for women to decrease their chance of
infection when having sex with other women is to properly use a latex dental dam.
What are the complications of untreated herpes?
Herpes is not life-threatening but and not commonly tested for like other STDs. The worst
problems associated with untreated herpes is physical discomfort from the sores,
inconvenience, and stress. Like other STDs, if left untreated,
herpes can increase a person's chance of getting or spreading HIV.Herpes during pregnancy can cause premature labor
and miscarriage. For a newborn baby, herpes can be very serious and may cause blindness,
brain damage or even death. A woman with herpes can have a healthy baby, but
precautions must be taken. All pregnant women should be tested for sexually transmitted
diseases as early as possible in pregnancy. You should be tested again during your pregnancy
if you are at higher risk for getting an STD.