Herpes FAQ

Herpes – Frequently Asked Questions


Q: What is Herpes?

A Herpes is a virus spread by close personal contact, such as kissing or sexual intercourse. There are two types of herpes that are discussed in this frequently asked questions list. The first type is herpes simplex type 1 (or HSV-1). HSV-1 occurs most often on or near the mouth and appears as a blister or cold sore. The second type, herpes simplex type 2 (or HSV-2), occurs most often on or near the sex organs and is referred as “genital herpes.”


Q: How do you get Herpes?

A Herpes is spread by direct skin to skin contact. It is not an airborne virus that you can catch, like other viruses. If you have herpes, there is always a chance that you can spread it to your partner. This goes for both HSV-1 (Oral herpes) and HSV-2 (Genital herpes). You can also spread HSV-1 (Oral herpes) to to genitals of your partner. This is most common when a cold sore is present.

You do not need an outbreak or cold sore present to spread herpes. Many people notice signs of an oncoming outbreak. These “Prodromal Symptoms” may include tingling, itching or even flu-like symptoms. These are warning signs that the virus is very contagious. Some people are asymptomatic, meaning that they show no signs or symptoms of having the herpes virus.


Q: Is there a cure for Herpes?

A There is no cure for herpes. There are many websites out there stating that they have a cure for herpes. They look credible and may even include testimonials or some kind of “Medical Proof” that they have a cure but those claims are false. If a cure for herpes is ever found, we will be quick to post it here. For more information on available treatments to help control herpes outbreaks, contact a health professional.


Q: Can you get Herpes from Oral Sex?

A “Don’t believe the myth about herpes that says Type 1 only affects people above the waist. Giving your partner oral sex with an active cold sore can give them genital herpes. It’s the same virus, just a different location. While Herpes Type 1 is the most common cause of cold sores and Type 2 the most common cause of genital herpes, this is not exclusively the case. ” – Dr. Sally Cockburn

Many people do not realize that cold sores are in fact oral herpes, and that you can give oral herpes, HSV-1 to a person in their genital region if you perform oral sex on them. This is why HSV-1 is becoming more common in the genitals. Alternately, the virus that causes genital herpes, HSV-2 can be transmitted to your mouth if you go down on someone who has genital herpes, or vice versa. Either type of the virus can reside in either area of the body, on its own, or together, and infect orally and/or genitally.

In other words, you can have HSV-1, generally associated with cold sores/oral herpes genitally, and HSV-2 orally.


Q: Can you get herpes from sitting on a toilet seat?

A The herpes virus is transmitted when a person makes direct contact with a lesion or secretions of an infected person. The virus enters the body through the skin or mucous membranes of the genital area. Transmission occurs primarily through vaginal, anal and oral-genital sexual contact. The herpes virus is quite fragile and cannot survive long outside the body. Transmission through inanimate objects such as toilet seats is unlikely.


Q: Sharing a towel?

A It is not recommended that you share a towel with someone who has herpes. There is no strong evidence that herpes can be transmitted in this manner, but it is better to err on the side of caution.


Q: Using a hot tub or swimming pool with someone who has herpes?

A Herpes Web (http://www.herpesweb.net/) is a United Kingdom web site sponsored by Glaxo Smith Kline which gives information about herpes to health care professionals and the general public. Professor Richard J. Whitley, Loeb Eminent Scholar Chair, Pediatrics and Professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology & Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is a top international specialist in herpes. Professor Whitley advised the public on the Herpes Web message board in January 2003; “Keep your hot tub. The only way this infection is transmitted is by intimate sexual contact. It is what you do in the hot tub that can lead to transmission.”

Bluntly put, the only way you could be exposed to herpes while in a hot tub or swimming pool is if you are having some type of sex. Herpes is transmitted via skin to skin contact, kissing, sexual intercourse, and oral sex. Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease. Herpes is not transmitted through exposure to water in which a person with herpes has been.


Q: What is the difference between Oral herpes (HSV-1) and Genital Herpes (HSV-2)?

A Let’s look at their similarities first.

According to ASHA (American Social Health Association), the viruses that cause oral and genital herpes are virtually identical under a microscope. Both types of herpes infect mucosal areas of the body, areas such as the genitals and the mouth. Oftentimes, people with either oral herpes (HSV-1) or genital herpes (HSV-2) have no idea that they have herpes. Though these people might not show outward symptoms of having either genital or oral herpes, they do have periods where the virus is present on their skin and in the mucosal membranes, which is known as Asymptomatic Viral Shedding. During these periods of viral shedding, the virus can be spread to others.

The major difference between oral and genital herpes is that when establishing themselves in the body, the virus prefers to establish latency in different places. HSV-1 usually establishes itself in ganglion, a group of nerve cells by your ears; where as genital herpes establishes itself in ganglion at the base of your spine. What this means is when you are having an outbreak orally, the virus travels from the ganglion to your mouth, area around the mouth, and facial region. HSV-2 on the other hand, travels from the ganglion at the base of your spine, with outbreaks generally occurring in the genital region.

The herpes virus CAN migrate to other areas. If you think of the ganglion like the base of a tree and the outward nerves like branches of that tree, you need to understand that the virus can travel up any of those branches and migrate to a different area than the one which was originally exposed. With genital herpes, this means that you can have an outbreak anywhere in the area where you might wear boxer shorts.


Q: Is there any connection between HIV and Herpes?

A People who have genital herpes are twice as likely to acquire HIV than those who don’t have the virus. Fifty-two percent of sexually transmitted HIV infections among people who also have herpes simplex virus type 2 can be attributed to infection with the herpes virus. This is because genital herpes and HIV can both be transmitted sexually. During a genital herpes outbreak, CD4 cells, which fight against the herpes infection, are found at the base of a herpes sore. CD4 cells are the main cells attacked by HIV. Therefore, if you are exposed to HIV during sexual contact and you have genital herpes sores, HIV can find an easy entry into your body.

Up to 95% of people who have HIV are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1, herpes simplex virus type 2, or both.
– Answer from Famvir.com


Q: How many people have Genital Herpes?

A According to the CDC, 1 in 6 people have herpes in the United States. There are other reliable sources who claim that number is as high as 1 in 4.

Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States, with as many as one million people in the United States becoming infected each year. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity or social-economical class you belong to, what race or ethnicity you are.


Q: What are the symptoms of Genital Herpes?

A In men, genital herpes is often mistaken for folliculitis, jock itch, “Normal” itch, zipper burn, hemorrhoids, allergy to condoms, insect/spider bites, and irritation from tight jeans/sexual intercourse/bike seat. (Ashley RL, Wald A. Clin Microbiol Rev. 1999;12:1-8)

In women, a genital herpes outbreak is often mistaken as a yeast infection, vaginitis, urinary tract infection, hemorrhoids, heat rash, menstrual complaint, urethral syndrome, allergy to condoms/sperm/spermacide/pantyhose/elastic, irritation from a bike seat, shaving, douching. (Ashley RL, Wald A. Clin Microbiol Rev. 1999;12:1-8)

It is important to note that some people are asymptomatic and never show any signs or symptoms of having herpes.


Q: Is it true that Cold Sores are actually a form of Herpes? Are canker sores herpes?

A Cold sores ARE herpes. Canker sores are not.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus, can be transmitted to others, and are not curable. It is not known exactly what causes canker sores, but it is known that they are not contagious. Having a cold sore can spread herpes to the genital region of another, usually from oral sex.


Q: What is the difference between a canker sore and a cold sore?

A A canker sore (also called aphthous ulcers) is a small ulcer with a white or gray base and red border. There can be one or a number of sores in the mouth. Canker sores are very common and often recur.

A cold sore, which is also called fever blister or herpes simplex, is composed of groups of painful, fluid-filled blisters that often erupt around the lips and sometime under the nose or under the chin. Cold sores are usually caused by herpes virus type I and are very contagious.

Canker sores usually heal in about a week or two. Rinsing with antimicrobial mouth rinses may help reduce the irritation. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can also provide relief. Cold sores usually heal in about a week. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide temporary relief and prescription antiviral drugs may reduce these kinds of viral infections.
– Answer from the American Dental Association


Q: How many people have Cold Sores (Oral Herpes – HSV-1)?

A According to Terri Warren, RN, ANP, and online advisor with WebMD, the incidence of oral herpes, HSV-1 is DECREASING. It is currently estimated that 60% of the US population has oral herpes.


Q: What are symptoms of Cold Sores (Oral Herpes – HSV-1)?

A Signs and symptoms an outbreak of cold sores include prodomes, pain or tingling that often precede cold sores by one to two days. The cold sores are small, painful, fluid-filled blisters. After a few days, the blisters dry and form a scab, healing in about 5-7 days, and not usually leaving any sort of scarring. For more information on cold sores, you can go to MayoClinic.com.


Q: How can I prevent transmitting Herpes?

A “People with herpes think there is a 100 per cent probability that they will pass their condition onto someone. But if a person is taking their medication and practicing safe sex, their risk of passing herpes onto another is low. It’s all about learning how to manage the condition.” – Dr. Ian Denham

The most reliable method of preventing transmission is to abstain from sexual intercourse and oral-genital sex from the time warning signs or lesions appear until the time lesions are completely healed. Condoms and contraceptive foams may offer some protection but do not always prevent transmission of the disease since the virus may be anywhere in the genital area.

Patients with active infections (meaning sores are present) should not share unwashed clothing or towels with other people. Hot water, laundry detergent, and bleach will kill the virus so there is no threat of infection to others once the items have been washed.

It is very important that anyone experiencing an outbreak of herpes practice good personal hygiene: avoid touching the lesions and always wash the hands after using the bathroom. This is important to prevent transmitting the virus to another place on the body. Herpes patients who wear glasses or contact lenses should take special precaution to avoid transmitting the virus to their eyes.

People experiencing an outbreak of herpes often have feelings of despair and hopelessness. Because of their fear of spreading the infection, they often isolate themselves from others. When people have an outbreak, they should refrain from sexual contact, but that does not mean that they cannot be close. Many herpes patients continue to sleep in the same bed with another person but wear some clothing to avoid accidental contact while they are infectious.
– answer from U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine


Q: Is it safe to have unprotected sex when there are no symptoms present?

A There is no safe time to have unprotected sex if you have herpes.


Q: At what point in my relationship should I tell my partner that I have Herpes?

A This is a personal decision. It is a good idea to have this discussion with your partner BEFORE becoming intimately involved, and giving your partner the opportunity to learn more about herpes and consider their decision.


Q: Do I have to tell every person I have sex with that I have Herpes, even if I am not having an outbreak?

A Yes. You need to have ‘the talk” if you are going to be sexually intimate with your partner. It is a matter of respect for the person you are involved with and your own sexual responsibility. There is always the chance someone may choose not to be intimate with you, but it is not your right to not allow that person to make their own choice.


Q: Can you transmit Herpes when you are not having an outbreak? What is Asymptomatic Viral Shedding?

A Yes! Sometimes, those who know they are infected, spread the virus between outbreaks, when no signs or symptoms are present. This is called “Asymptomatic Transmission.” Research also shows that herpes simplex infections are often spread by people who don’t know they are infected. These people may have symptoms so mild they don’t notice them at all or else don’t recognize them as herpes.

Many genital herpes infections are spread from persons who are asymptomatic “Shedders” of the virus.

For those who recognize their symptoms, asymptomatic transmission appears to be far less likely than spreading the virus when lesions are present. Many couples have had sexual relations for years without transmitting herpes. Some simply avoid having sexual contact when signs or symptoms are present. Others use condoms or other protection between outbreaks to help protect against asymptomatic shedding. – answer from Herpes.com


Q: What about the stigma of having herpes?

A “Sure genital herpes is an infection and it’s sexually transmitted, but with good treatment and safe sex practices, it should attract no more emotional response than its cousin, the cold sore…It’s tragic that the same virus can cause so much emotional upset simply depending on what part of the body it affects. A cold sore near the mouth is considered a nuisance, but genital herpes can affect people’s whole way of viewing themselves and others. I know people who deliberately avoid establishing close relationships rather than discussing genital herpes with a new partner. These people are often unaware that good treatment options exist, but are too embarrassed to talk to their doctor or get a proper diagnosis”. – Dr. Sally Cockburn

What people don’t understand is that herpes is a very common virus. Think about the statistics for a moment… 60% of people have cold sores, and one in four people have genital herpes. With genital herpes, the symptoms are, ‘down there’, and many people associate persons having a sexually transmitted disease as sexually irresponsible or promiscuous.

Of course, the stigma is not the truth.

You are the same person you were before you got herpes. Having herpes is not the end of the world. Herpes is treatable AND manageable. Just remember that there is still no cure for herpes.


Q: Where can I find a Herpes support group?

A The American Social Health Association (ASHA) has helped to organize herpes support groups nationwide. These groups, called HELP groups (HELP stands for Help Educate Lay People and Professionals) are not-for-profit groups that offer a safe, anonymous, confidential environment where you can ask questions, share your experience, listen to the experiences of others and get accurate information about herpes.

For more information on where you might find a local support group, you can contact the National Herpes Hotline, 1-888-411-4377 1-888-411-4377 , Monday through Friday, 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. Eastern Time. You can also go to their website, ashastd.org where you will find a list of herpes support groups in the United States, Canada, and Australia.