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Genital Herpes Health Center

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Genital Herpes - Prevention

You can take steps to help keep from getting genital herpes—or any other sexually transmitted infection. You can also take steps to keep from giving herpes to your sex partner(s).

Practice safer sex

Preventing a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is easier than treating an infection after it occurs.

  • Talk with your partner about STIs before beginning a sexual relationship. Find out whether he or she is at risk for an STI. Remember that it is quite possible to have an STI without knowing it. Some STIs, such as HIV, can take up to 6 months before they can be detected in the blood.
  • Be responsible.
    • Avoid sexual contact if you have symptoms of an STI or are being treated for an STI.
    • Avoid sexual contact with anyone who has symptoms of an STI or who may have been exposed to an STI.
  • Don't have more than one sexual relationship at a time. Your risk for an STI increases if you have several sex partners.

For more information, see the topic Safer Sex.

Use condoms

Using condoms lowers your chances of getting or spreading herpes and other STIs, even if you are already using another birth control method to prevent pregnancy.

Condoms must be in place before the start of sexual contact. Use condoms with a new partner until you are certain that he or she doesn't have an STI. You can use either male condoms or female condoms.

Don't have sex, even with condoms, while you're having herpes symptoms.

Take antiviral medicine

Taking daily valacyclovir, an antiviral medicine, can prevent spread of genital herpes to your sexual partner even when you do not have an active outbreak.

Take care during pregnancy

A woman who gets genital herpes while she is pregnant could pass the infection to her baby during delivery. Herpes can make newborns seriously ill.

If you are pregnant, follow these steps:

  • Tell your doctor if you have been exposed to genital herpes or have had an outbreak in the past.
  • Let your doctor know if you are currently having an outbreak, especially if you are in the last part of your pregnancy.
  • Avoid unsafe sex. Herpes is often transmitted by people who don't know they are infected and don't have symptoms. Use condoms.
  • Avoid receiving oral sex from partners who have cold sores. Herpes in newborns can be caused by HSV-1, the virus that most commonly causes cold sores. Most experts advise pregnant women not to receive oral sex in the last 3 months of their pregnancy. It increases their risk of genital infection with HSV-1.

Antiviral medicine can be used safely in pregnancy to reduce the risk of an outbreak at the time of delivery. This lower risk, in turn, makes it less likely that delivery by cesarean section will be needed.

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