How Do You Catch Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes, also known as herpes simplex virus, is a very common sexually transmitted infection. If you're wondering how do you catch genital herpes, you're in the right place.
Being aware of the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases can help you identify them quicker which means you'll be able to get treated sooner. Your sexual health is important and infections such as genital herpes can cause unpleasant symptoms that can affect your quality of life.
The problem is, it's possible to have herpes and be asymptomatic, meaning you have no symptoms. There are also 2 types of herpes, called herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2, also known as HSV-1 and HSV-2.
So what are the symptoms of genital herpes infection and how is it transmitted? We've answered those questions and lots more right here. We've also added an FAQ section at the end where you can find even more information about the symptoms of genital herpes infection and how to prevent it.
What are the herpes simplex viruses and how are they spread? How the virus is transmitted depends on which type you have.
Type 1 herpes or HSV-1 is typically transmitted through oral contact with herpes cold sores, saliva and areas in and around the person's mouth. But, it can be transmitted to genital areas through oral sex.
Type 1 herpes can also be transmitted through oral sexual activity or contact with the skin when there aren't any symptoms. However, the highest risk of passing it on is when cold sores are present. People who already have the type 2 oral herpes virus are unlikely to catch type 1 in their genital area.
The type 2 virus is usually transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the herpes virus. The type 2 virus can also be passed on from genital areas that look normal and is quite often transmitted when there aren't any symptoms.
Can Herpes be Spread When There is No Outbreak?
Type 1 oral herpes is highly contagious when there's an outbreak of the virus with symptoms, but it can also be spread during an asymptomatic outbreak too. If you have active oral herpes symptoms you should avoid using sex toys with anyone and any oral contact.
You must also refrain from any oral sexual activity to avoid passing the herpes virus to the genitals of your sex partner. People with signs of genital herpes must avoid any sexual activity while they have any symptoms.
Genital herpes is most contagious if there's an outbreak of cold sores but it can also be spread if there are no visible symptoms.
Those with symptoms typical of genital herpes should also go for HIV testing. People who live in areas with high levels of HIV incidence may benefit from targeted prevention methods, including pre-exposure prophylaxis.
Can You Catch Genital Herpes From a Cold Sore?
Yes, genital herpes can be spread through contact with cold sores or fluids of the infected person. Lots of people aren't even aware that sores or blisters are caused by type 1 oral herpes. Nor do they realise that type 1 herpes is closely related to the type 2 virus that spreads genital herpes.
This is why it's very easy to get genital herpes because people unknowingly spread their sores to their sex partner's genitals through oral sexual activity.
Although there are two types of herpes, type 1 that causes oral herpes, and type 2 that causes genital herpes, either virus can infect both areas. This means that if you have herpes sores you may have the same chance of spreading the virus to your sex partner(s) as people with genital herpes.
Can You Catch Herpes From Oral Sex?
Yes, you can get genital herpes from having any sexual activity with an infected person. If you don't have herpes you can be infected if you have contact with the virus in:
- A cold sore.
- Saliva (if your sex partner has oral herpes) or bodily fluids (if your partner has genital herpes).
- Skin in and around the mouth if type 1 herpes is present, or from the genital area if they have genital herpes.
It is possible to catch herpes from a sex partner who doesn't have a visible sore who may not know they're even infected. You can also contract genital herpes if you have oral sexual activity with someone who is infected with oral herpes.
Can You Catch Herpes From a Toilet Seat?
Contrary to popular belief, you can't catch herpes simplex virus HSV type 1 or 2 from toilet seats, swimming pools, or sharing cutlery, towels, or bedding items.
Genital herpes is spread through sexual contact, such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner. The easiest way of catching it is by making skin-to-skin contact with a partner who has herpes lesions on their genitals or in and around their mouth.
Although the genital herpes virus can live, grow, and lie dormant in a human body for a long time, it quickly dies in an outside environment. Generally, it only takes 10 seconds for the herpes virus to die once it makes contact with a surface outside the body, such as a worktop, chair, or toilet seat.
This means it's very unlikely that you'll catch genital herpes from toilet seats, swimming pools, or other public areas. It's also highly unlikely you'll catch herpes by using hand dryers or public drinking fountains.
Even so, it's still important to make sure shared items and utensils are clean before they have contact with your skin. Although things like towels and toilet seats are unlikely to spread herpes to you, harmful bacteria can still be present on them.
Can You Catch Herpes With a Condom?
Using a condom during sexual activity can help lower the chance of spreading genital herpes. Since the HSV viruses are transmitted during sexual contact with an infected person, the only way to completely avoid catching it is abstinence.
However, most people have some kind of sexual activity during their lives, so practising safe sex will go a long way in preventing the spread of STDs including genital herpes.
Unlike other STIs, genital herpes is spread through skin-on-skin contact rather than bodily fluids. Because condoms don't cover every area of skin that may be infected, they can't fully protect you against herpes.
But, consistently using condoms during sexual activity helps reduce the risk of transmitting genital herpes from women to men by 65% and from men to women by 95%.
Every time you have unprotected sex, you increase the risk of catching genital herpes so only using condoms occasionally will not be effective at preventing transmission. If there's an outbreak, don't have sex with anyone because that's when the virus is most contagious.
Keep in mind though that genital herpes can still be transmitted if there aren't any sores or other symptoms present. For this reason, it's essential to take care of your sexual health by using condoms even if you think there's nothing wrong with you or your partner.
What are the symptoms of herpes?
Although sometimes the disease won't have visible herpes symptoms, many people develop signs after just a few weeks of catching the infection. You may notice a group of blisters or lesions that can be very painful.
In women, they may appear in the vagina or on the vulva and in men, on the scrotum or penis. They can also develop on your thighs, buttocks, and anus. Before these blisters or lesions appear, many people complain of a burning or tingling sensation where the blisters will develop.
This is usually during urination, coupled with discomfort and itching around the genitals. Other signs of herpes infections include:
- Blisters or sores on the mouth or lips
- Headache, fever, and joint pain
- Difficulty urinating
The signs of herpes can come and go as recurring outbreaks. For many people, the first episode of genital herpes is the worst and can last for up to 3 weeks. After that, the flare-ups aren't as severe or long-lasting.
How do I get tested for herpes?
Your physician or health care provider can usually diagnose a herpes infection just from your symptoms.
If you think you have an infection it's a good idea to visit a sexual health clinic - there, they can take samples of your sores, if you have any, and conduct a herpes test for infection.
A herpes infection can also be diagnosed by performing one of the following:
- Viral culture test: This involves a tissue or body fluid sample being taking and tested for infection.
- PCR test: A polymerase chain reaction test copies your DNA from a tissue or blood sample. The DNA is then tested to see if any HSV viruses are present, and if so, which one.
What treatment options are available for herpes?
Unfortunately, there isn't a cure for herpes infection. But, there is medication that can prevent outbreaks or make them shorter. Herpes treatment may:
- Heal sores quickly during the initial episode of genital herpes
- Ease each symptom during outbreaks
- Decrease the frequency of recurring outbreaks
- Lessen the risk of spreading the infection to sex partners.
The medicines typically prescribed for genital herpes are:
Your physician or doctor may tell you to take the medication only during an outbreak or to take it every day, even if there are no signs of the infection. Most people tolerate these medicines well with little to no side effects.
How can I prevent herpes and other types of sexually transmitted infections?
The only solution that is 100% effective in preventing STDs is avoiding sexual contact. But if you're sexually active, there are ways of being safer. Condoms provide very effective protection against most STDs, as long as they're used properly. For the best protection, you should use condoms during any sexual activity.
Barrier methods such as condoms offer good protection against STDs that are spread through bodily fluids but may not be so effective against the HSV viruses that are spread through skin-to-skin contact.
As a general rule of safe sex practice, regular STI testing with iPlaySafe is a good idea if you're sexually active, especially if you have a new partner or multiple partners. You should also discuss sexual history with a new partner, who should also be screened for STIs.