How Can Herpes Spread? And What that Means for Your Health

Herpes is one of the most misunderstood STDs, and as a result, there are a number of myths and misconceptions regarding the disease. Indeed, many people are unsure what to make of herpes. It’s a confusing and seemingly contradictory STD that comes in multiple strains and affects people differently. Perhaps then it’s not surprising that many don’t know the answer to the common question: how can herpes spread? Given the amount of uncertainty regarding herpes, we’re going to analyze how the disease functions and get down to brass tacks to explain what it all means for your health.

HSV-1 vs. HSV-2

Before we discuss how herpes can be transmitted, it’s important to first make a distinction between the two strains: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 or “oral herpes,”exists primarily in the mouth, and manifests itself in tingling or burning sensations, as well as the more well-recognized sores and blisters that many associate with herpes. Similarly, HSV-2 or “genital herpes,” inhabits the genital region or the rectum. Again, the symptoms –– when they do appear –– mirror those of the HSV-1 strain, but instead crop up below the belt. Herpes, like many other STDs, can remain asymptomatic for weeks at a time.  

How Can Herpes Be Transmitted?

Herpes is one of the easiest STDs to transmit and catch. That’s partially due to the fact the HSV-1 strain can pass from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex. So individuals with oral herpes can give their partners the HSV-2 strain.  Also, herpes spreads from skin-to-skin contact through any membrane or open area  –– even really small cuts. (The fact that herpes doesn’t rely on transmission through bodily fluids differentiates it from other STDs.) As for genital herpes, it’s a little more straightforward in its transference. Either vaginal or anal sex can lead to the transmission of the HSV-2 strain. Furthermore, because of the way it spreads condoms will not prevent the spread of herpes. (Note, condom usage during sex will significantly lower your chances of getting/spreading the disease.)

Do I Need to Worry About Herpes?

In truth, large numbers of the population have herpes –– and many don’t even realize it. As such, it may seem tempting to dismiss herpes because of its ubiquity. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, because herpes is a virus, there’s no cure for it. There are treatment options, but nothing that can completely eradicate it. Second, a disturbing correlation exists between herpes and HIV. Individuals with herpes sores are often more likely to contract HIV during intercourse, and those who already have HIV face complications as a result of herpes. In short, herpes isn’t a disease to be ignored or disregarded. Rather, because the disease is both common and difficult to detect with the naked eye, it underscores the importance of seeking out proper STD testing.

(For expecting mothers: undiagnosed herpes can cause complications during childbirth, and it’s recommended that you get tested for STDs at least once during your pregnancy.)


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