Transmission of Genital Herpes


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Genital herpes is usually passed on through sexual contact whether that be oral sex, vaginal sex or anal sex. The virus is spread through genital fluids and enters the body through the mucous linings of the infected areas. It can also enter the body if there are any breaks in the skin.  Usually the type 1 herpes simplex virus does not cause genital herpes but if it is passed from a cold sore during oral sex to the genital area, there is a chance it can cause genital herpes. You don’t need to necessarily have penetrative sexual intercourse in order for the virus to be passed to your partner as it can be passed by touching the infected area and then touching your partner. It can also be spread through sharing sex toys.  Usually, it is more easily spread from a male to a female rather than a female to a male.

The virus cannot survive for long outside the body so it is not passed on artificial surfaces. Therefore the herpes simplex virus cannot infect you by sitting on toilet seats, touching doorknobs or baths.

When are you most infectious?

The highest risk of transmission is when you are experiencing an outbreak, as the virus is present on your skin and the blisters that the virus causes. Coming into contact with the blisters or the area makes it easier for the virus to spread. Therefore if you have an outbreak, you should abstain from sexual intercourse until the symptoms have disappeared and even then always wear a condom as the virus can be transmitted regardless of whether there are any symptoms.

What increases risk of infection?

You are more likely to become infected with genital herpes if you have unprotected sex. Many infected people are asymptomatic so they don’t realise they are passing on an infection until it is too late. Your risk also increases if you     have numerous sexual partners as you are coming into contact with more genital fluids, which increases the chance that some of them are infected.  You are also at a high risk of infection if you already have a sexually transmitted infection especially if you have HIV as the HIV infection lowers your immune system, making it easier to become infected.

When did I become infected?

With most outbreaks, it is easy enough to pinpoint when you have become infected as the infection usually occurs after 2 weeks of transmission. You can then contact the other person and advise them to get treated for the STI. However, some people are asymptomatic and don’t experience an outbreak for months or sometimes even years so it is difficult to know when you became infected.


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