Frequently Asked Questions About Genital Herpes
If I don't have herpes now, how can I avoid it in the future?
The only sure-fire way to avoid getting genital herpes is to abstain from sex or have sex only with someone who is also herpes-free. Short of that, a latex condom offers some protection if it covers the infected area. Remember, you can get genital herpes by receiving oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, analingus) from someone with a cold sore on the mouth. Likewise, you can get oral herpes from someone's genitals by way of oral sex.
If you know that a sex partner has genital herpes, you can reduce your risk by having sex (vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse) only when he or she has no symptoms. Nevertheless, genital herpes can be contagious even when there are no visible symptoms, so you should always use a latex barrier, such as a condom or a dental dam.
If your partner has a known history of herpes, the rate of transmission can be decreased by having your partner on a daily prophylactic (preventative) dose of antiviral herpes medication like acyclovir. Your partner’s doctor can prescribe this.
Studies are under way to investigate medicated gel products that can be placed in the vagina to reduce the transmission of herpes and HIV. These may be available in the near future.
What's the big deal? Can genital herpes kill you?
Genital herpes is rarely life threatening. But having herpes sores makes it easier for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to enter the body. Not only is there an increased risk for getting HIV if you have genital herpes, but having the two diseases together may also make each one worse.
A pregnant woman can pass genital herpes on to her baby, so it's particularly serious during pregnancy. If you get infected near the end of pregnancy, the risk is highest. At least 30% and as many as 50% of newly infected pregnant women give the virus to their babies. For moms who were infected long before delivery, the risk is much lower. Less than 1% of babies born to mothers with an older genital herpes infection get the virus. And if a woman has an outbreak at delivery, a cesarean section (C-section) is usually done.
Genital herpes is a lifelong condition for which there is no cure. Having it can force you to make inconvenient changes in life, particularly in your sex life, and it can cause you a lot of pain and discomfort. You simply would rather not have it.