Five Things You Should Know about Herpes

Emily DubermanEmily 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. It is estimated that 1 out of 6 people have genital herpes. About 90% of them don’t know it.

  2. 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 (both oral & 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 a very manageable skin condition and does not cause any damage to internal organs.

  5. 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.

Understanding Herpes with H. Hunter Handsfield, MD

Herpes expert H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, explains the basics about genital herpes, including the difference between genital HSV-1 and HSV-2 infection, testing options and the importance of knowing virus type, and the three-prong strategy for prevention. See more herpes videos at

Have a question about herpes you’d like Dr. Handsfield or our other experts to answer? Visit our Ask the Experts page to learn how.

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