Herpes simplex virus type 2 is a form of herpes virus that can be sexually transmitted and causes lesions, such as sores and blisters, to form on the skin.
Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2) is spread by skin-to-skin contact and can be transmitted even when the herpes lesions are not visible on the skin. Although HSV2 is rarely contracted through oral sex, transmission is possible in some cases. People with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.
Transmission of HSV2
Skin-on-skin contact is necessary for the transmission of HSV2. It cannot be transmitted through semen, from touching toilet seats and other objects, or from using hot tubs.
HSV2 passes from one person to another when infected areas come into contact with mucous membranes or open areas on the skin of uninfected people. A mucous membrane is a moist lining found in certain parts of the body, including the vagina, anus, and mouth.
Once infected with HSV2, the initial symptoms usually appear within 2 weeks after exposure. This is known as the primary outbreak, and it may be more severe and last longer than future outbreaks.
When the virus is active, it will travel to the infected skin or mucous membrane and replicate, in a process known as "shedding." This can lead to the appearance of sores and lesions on the infected area, and the virus can now be easily passed on to another person.
The virus will eventually move through the nerves from the skin to near the base of the spine, to a location known as the sacral ganglia. Here, it will lie dormant for a time until it becomes activated once again.
It should be noted that symptoms are not always present even when the virus is active, and HSV2 can still be transmitted during this time.
Symptoms of HSV2
The symptoms of both HSV1 and HSV2 are similar. People with the virus may display no symptoms, very mild symptoms, or mistake their symptoms for something else. The absence of symptoms does not mean the virus cannot be transmitted to others.
People who do have symptoms may experience:
. an itching, tingling, or burning sensation around the lips and mouth or in the genital area
. painful red sores
. irritated skin
. small blisters that ooze or bleed
There is no cure for either HSV1 or HSV2, so it is important to take steps to decrease the risk of contracting or passing on the virus. Some ways to decrease the transmission of HSV include:
. using condoms or dental dams during all forms of sexual activity
. getting regular STI tests and ensuring sexual partners also get tested regularly
. reducing the number of sexual partners
. being in a long-term monogamous relationship with an uninfected person
. avoiding sexual activity during outbreaks of the herpes virus
. using anti-herpes medication daily if one partner has the herpes virus
. abstaining from sexual activity
Remember that the herpes virus can be active and easily transmitted even when symptoms are not present. Also, using a condom or dental dam does not guarantee the virus will not be transmitted, as a barrier cannot cover all infected areas.