Prevention methods, precautions and practical advice when dealing with Herpes
Is it possible to prevent herpes infection?
Many couples have had sexual relations for years without transmitting herpes. Some simply avoid having sexual contact when signs or symptoms are present, while others use condoms or other protection between outbreaks to help protect against asymptomatic shedding.
If you take the necessary precautions, the chances of getting the virus from your partner are small. Genital herpes does not necessarily mean complete abstinence from sex or a reduced enjoyment of sex.
The risk of transmitting the virus may possibly be reduced if you use condoms. The continued use of condoms in a long-term relationship is a personal decision that only the couple can make.
Most couples find that as the importance of the HSV infection in their relationship is seen in perspective, that condom use can become less relevant if this is the only reason condoms are being used.
However, at all costs couples should try to avoid sexual intercourse during an active episode of herpes, because this is when the virus is most likely to be transmitted. This period includes the time from when your partner first has warning signs of an outbreak, such as a tingling or burning in the genitals, until the last of the sores has healed. Also, sexual activity prolongs the healing of the episode.
Transmission risk is increased if there are any breaks in the skin, for example, if you have thrush or small abrasions from sexual intercourse, often due to insufficient lubrication. It can be helpful to use a lubricant specifically for sexual intercourse and avoid sex if you have thrush. Sexual lubrication is helpful right at the start of sexual activity.
Sores in other areas, such as the buttocks and thighs, can be just as contagious as those in the genital area, and care should be taken to avoid direct contact with such sores during sex.
At other times, there is still a small risk of transmitting the infection, even if there are no signs of genital herpes.
If you or your partner has a cold sore, it is advisable to avoid oral sex as this can spread the virus to the genitals.
You cannot catch genital herpes by sharing cups, towels or bath water, or from toilet seats. Even during an outbreak, it is only skin to skin contact with the parts of your partner's body which have the sores which you need to avoid. You can still cuddle, share a bed, or kiss.
Some basic facts that you should know:
Transmission (spreading the herpes virus)
- HSV can be passed on when one person has the virus present on the skin or mucous membrane and another person makes direct skin-to-skin contact with the live virus.
- The herpes virus is likely to be present on the skin from the first sign of prodrome (tingling or itching where the outbreak usually occurs), until the sores have completely healed and new skin is present.
- There are likely to be certain periods of time (possibly only a few days out of the year) when the active virus might be on the skin, even though there are no obvious signs or symptoms.
- Always using latex condoms may possibly reduce the risk of transmitting the virus at these times.
- Herpes is very frequently transmitted by infected persons who do not know they are infected.
- Once diagnosed, a person generally is able to take the simple precautions necessary to protect partners - avoiding contact during prodrome or an outbreak and practicing safer sex when no symptoms are present.
Can I catch the herpes virus from toilets, or sharing soap, bath towels, etc?
It is generally considered that the spreading of genital herpes through inanimate objects, such as soap, towels, clothing, bed sheets, toilet seats, and spa surfaces is highly unlikely because the herpes virus cannot live very long outside of the body.
In theory this virus will die very quickly once the temperature drops or the moisture around the virus dries up, but a scenario can be suggested where the temperature and moisture holds on long enough for the virus to survive outside the body for several minutes. This could arise where an infected person leaves the virus in droplets of warm urine on the toilet seat and someone uses that toilet seat within a few minutes and has a cut that comes in contact with that pool of warm urine. To avoid this scenario wipe the toilet seat before using.
Herpes Outbreaks & Recurrences
- People who experience an episode (outbreak or recurrence) of herpes, either facial or genital, should consider themselves infectious from the start of the episode to the healing of the very last ulcer
- There is a very small chance of spreading the herpes virus when there a no visible symptoms. This is scientifically referred to as Herpes Viral Shedding.
- Various herpes treatments can help. A good treatment will help to prevent a recurrence and speed the healing time of symptoms. Some therapies may also help to reduce viral shedding.
Steps to greatly reduce the risk of infection:
In a sexual relationship with a person who has herpes, the risk of contracting the infection will never be zero. However, these steps can greatly reduce the risk:
- Tell Your Partner. It is important to understand what herpes is, how it can be prevented, which precautions are best and have accurate and helpful information available
- Avoid sex during outbreaks as herpes is most contagious during this time. Some couples have sexual relationships for years without transmitting herpes, just by avoiding sexual contact when symptoms are present.
- Limit the number of sexual partners
- By having sex with partner who has sex only with you (mutual monogamy)
- Use Latex Condoms between outbreaks. Condoms offer useful protection against herpes protecting or covering the mucous membranes, the most likely sites of infection.
- However condoms do not guarantee safety. The herpes sore or lesion is not always located in an area covered by the condom.
What about condoms and foams?
Studies show that:
- The herpes virus does not pass through latex condoms.
- When properly used latex condoms are likely to reduce your risk of spreading or getting herpes, however even the best condoms do not guarantee total safety.
- When herpes sores occur in places not covered by a condom the condom is of little help, if any.
- Condoms and foams should not be relied upon when herpes sores or symptoms are present.
- Spermicidal foams and jellies may offer additional protection. Spermicides used in contraceptive foams, film and gels kill or neutralize HSV in laboratory tests and may provide some protection when used in the vagina (recommended dose the same as for contraception).
- Some contraceptive foams contain ingredients (such as nonoxynol-9) that kill the herpes virus and other STD's in test tubes.
- Foams are best used along with condoms, not in place of condoms.
- Condoms do not provide 100 percent protection because a lesion may be found which the condom did not cover.
- Used consistently, however, condoms are one of the best available forms of prevention.
- Women with any sexually transmitted disease (STD) may be at greater risk of developing cervical cancer than other women. All women should have regular Pap Smear tests at least once a year as early cell changes can be detected by Pap smears.
- Visit a local sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic, hospital, doctor or health professional.
Can the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) spread to other parts of the body?
Avoid contact with any herpes blister, sore or abrasion because of the highly contagious nature of this virus. Even if the blister is elsewhere on the body and not directly located on a sexual organ.
The fingers, eyes and other body areas can be accidentally infected by touching the sores. In this way the virus can spread to other areas of the body.
Preventing self-infection is simple: do not touch the area during an outbreak, if you do, wash your hands immediately with soap and warm water. This will prevent the virus from spreading further.
What about Herpes Vaccines?
U.S. researchers have produced an effective vaccine for genital herpes for the first time, offering hope that the spread of the incurable disease, which affects one in five adult Americans, can be limited.
The vaccine prevented infection in 74 percent of women exposed for the first time to the genital herpes virus, known as herpes simplex virus type 2. But the vaccine didn't work at all in men, researchers reported, adding they were not sure why.
The Stanberry team's test included 978 women and 1,736 men whose partners had genital herpes, all of whom got either three vaccine shots or three placebo shots within a six-month period. They were followed for a total of 19 months. The researchers discovered the vaccine didn't work well in women who had been infected by a related virus, the herpes simplex virus type 1, which is responsible for cold sores or fever blisters. Only when women had never been exposed to type 1 or type 2 herpes did the effectiveness of the vaccine reach 74 percent.
Stanberry said even with those limitations and the lack of effectiveness in men, the vaccine could be a powerful weapon in the fight against herpes. A new final-stage study of the vaccine is planned to be launched, that will involve 7,550 women aged 18 to 30 around the United States.
If the new tests bear out the existing study results, the vaccine could be available in about five years, said Lawrence Stanberry of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, who led the study, published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
Other herpes vaccines are currently being investigated and it is felt that an effective vaccine may be available in 3-5 years. Vaccines will only function to prevent the infection in new patients. Those who already have the simplex virus disease will probably not gain any benefit. Other vaccines have been tried to prevent the HSV occurrence, but so far had no noticeable effects. These include the smallpox, Polio and Lupidon C vaccine.
Where to Now?
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