The herpes virus is very contagious. During an active outbreak, skin-to-skin contact with the infected area is all that is needed to transmit the disease. While the virus is most often transmitted to the genitals, thighs and buttocks, touching the infected area has been known to pass the virus to fingers. Oral sex with an infected partner can pass the virus directly to the mouth.
People often assume that herpes sores and blisters must be present for the disease to be transmitted. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true: seventy percent of all infections occur during outbreaks without any visible symptoms. Even though symptoms are not visible, the virus is still present both on the skin and in bodily fluids.
Intercourse, Abstinence and Herpes Prevention
During an outbreak of genital herpes, the best way to avoid transmitting the disease is to abstain from sexual contact of any kind until the infection runs its course and the virus returns to a state of dormancy. All forms of sex, including oral sex, should be avoided until the lesions have shed their scabs and the skin beneath has completely healed. In cases where symptoms are mild and blisters don’t form, abstaining for a couple of weeks is prudent. Limiting sexual partners also reduces the chance of transmission.
Herpes Prevention and Condoms
The correct and regular use of latex condoms can greatly reduce the risk of both transmitting and contracting HSV 2. A condom should always be worn during sex if either partner carries the virus, whether it appears to be active at that time or not.
Although the use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmission, do not assume that using a condom will protect you fully. While a condom will often protect against infections on the penis and vagina, the virus often presents in other areas. No condom will prevent exposure to lesions on the thighs or buttocks, for instance. And of course condoms are no protection against mouth infections caused by oral sex with infected partners.
Laboratory experiments have shown that certain foam contraceptives can kill HSV 2. However, these tests were in controlled situations. Using a foam contraceptive may help reduce the risk of transmission, but should always be used in combination with condoms.
The Toilet Seat Story
It’s a common story: an unsuspecting person sat on a toilet seat and caught genital herpes because an infected person had also sat there. There’s not much truth to this story. While in theory it is possible, contracting herpes from any surface has never been documented. The virus, despite its infection rate, is quite fragile outside of the body. It does not survive long on unprotected surfaces.
The Herpes Vaccine: Hope for the Future
A number of research teams are currently working to develop a herpes vaccine. While such research has great potential, all such vaccines are considered experimental drugs, and have yet to be proven to the satisfaction of the FDA. Results, so far, have been erratic. One potential vaccine, for instance, appears to work only on women.
It should also be noted that, even when an effective vaccine is developed, the likelihood is that people currently infected by the virus will not benefit. It will, however, offer some measure of protection for those who haven’t been infected