The Misconceptions behind HSV
Genital Herpes is one of the most common viral sexually transmitted infections, especially in the college population. As many as one in eight people between the ages of 14-49 have genital herpes. Though many people have the virus, there are many myths that surround the virus. This article seeks to address five common misconceptions about Herpes.
Myth: Herpes can only be transmitted from someone who has an outbreak. Fact: There is a greater risk of transmitting herpes virus during an outbreak. However, the herpes simplex virus (HSV) can be shed at any time. This why suppression therapy is a good option for someone who has HSV but is in a relationship with a partner or partners who have not been diagnosed with HSV.
Myth: Condoms provide complete protection from HSV. Fact: HSV is a skin infection, meaning the virus lives on the skin and is not passed through fluids, but is passed from skin to skin contact. Using a condom does not provide complete protection from HSV as during sexual activity, there is still skin to skin contact. HSV can be transmitted through oral and anal intercourse as well. Many people do not use barrier protection when engaging in these types of intercourse, thus increasing the risk of acquiring the infection.
Myth: You only have HSV if you have symptoms. Fact: As many as 90% of persons with HSV have never had symptoms or had symptoms that went unnoticed. Thus, as many persons with HSV may not know they have the virus.
Myth: I got tested for everything (all STIs) when I went to the doctor. Fact: There are close to 30 known STIs. Individuals are generally not tested for all STIs when they are seen for screenings. HSV is one of those that is often not screened for. The blood test has limitations and will be positive if the person has had cold sores in the past. The best time to test for HSV is if the person is having symptoms and the sores can be tested.
Myth: HSV1 means you have a cold sores. Many providers are using HSV 1 and HSV 2 to describe herpes infections. The rationale for this is that a person could have either type in various locations of the body. Most providers now refer to HSV infections by location (i.e. genital herpes, oral herpes etc…)
Things you should know or do:
HSV is most commonly has symptoms 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. The sores associated with the virus often become ulcerated and are painful. During the 1stoutbreak you may also have flu like symptoms.
Be educated about your partner’s status - make informed decisions about who you choose to be sexually active with. Ask questions, including do you get cold sores?
Continue to use condoms- though it does not provide complete protection, it does provide some level of protection.
Use protection with oral intercourse, the use of condoms and dental dams, can provide protection.
Use Internal condoms for anal or vaginal intercourse. Internal condoms (formally referred to as female condoms) are inserted into the body cavity and the external portion of the condom provides a greater amount of skin coverage than traditional condoms. (Internal condoms are available at SHS pharmacy and unlike traditional condoms are covered at no charge by most insurance. See your SHS provider for more details).
If you have any questions or concerns about HSV seek medical advice.