The U.S. Preventative Service Task Force (USPSTF) has advised against routine screening for herpes in adolescents, adults, and pregnant women.
Emily Duberman, former ASHA staff and volunteer, answered many questions from the public about STIs in her time at ASHA, including many questions about genital herpes. In this essay, Emily shares her thoughts on how to manage this common infection.
As most of my calls here at ASHA are about genital herpes, I thought I’d clear the air. TV shows, movies, and society as a whole create this stigma around herpes when really, there’s not too much to be scared of. Most of the time, genital herpes is a mild skin condition that can be managed very effectively.
1. Herpes is common
It is estimated that 1 out of 6 people have genital herpes. About 90% of them don’t know it.
2. Any skin-to-skin contact can pass on herpes
Herpes is passed through direct skin-to-skin contact with the infected area such as kissing, oral sex, genital-to-genital rubbing, vaginal, and anal sex. It’s a good idea not to share towels and sex toys that make direct contact with anal and genital skin during an outbreak, but we stress even this risk is not well-documented and thought to be an unlikely means of transmission. Transmission through other inanimate objects, like a utensil or razor, is highly unlikely but it may be best not to share lipsticks or glosses.
3. Herpes can be passed on even when there are no symptoms
Herpes (both oral and genital) can be spread even when there are no symptoms or sores. This is called asymptomatic shedding. Suppressive antiviral therapy significantly reduces asymptomatic shedding (and outbreaks). Valacyclovir taken daily can reduce risk of transmission to a partner by as much as 50%.
4. Herpes is manageable
Herpes is a very manageable skin condition and does not cause any damage to internal organs.
5. Herpes infection doesn’t have to stand in the way of relationships
People with herpes have very normal romantic and sexual relationships. After diagnosis, you may feel like your life may never be the same again but you will feel better soon. There are countless online communities and support groups for you with people who’ve been in your shoes.
More to Explore
Think you can tell that a rash or sore is a genital herpes infection just by looking at it? If you said “no,” you’re right. You can’t. And neither can your healthcare provider.
There are currently both preventive and therapeutic vaccines under development. While the primary focus is on HSV-2, the primary cause of genital infection, HSV-2 vaccines may also have benefits in preventing or treating HSV-1 infection.
A paper published ahead of print in Sexually Transmitted Diseases finds that commercial blood tests commonly used to diagnose herpes simplex virus (HSV) are frequently not reliable, especially in those with “low positive” results.
Support groups provide information and allow participants to share experiences, fears, and feelings with others who are concerned about herpes.
The best way for couples to deal with herpes is to talk about it openly and make decisions together. So what’s the best way to start the conversation?