Herpes (HSV) is contracted through skin to skin contact. HSV-1 is usually passed by kissing a person who already has the virus. HSV-1 can also spread from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, or analingus). HSV-2 is most often passed by vaginal or anal sex with someone who has herpes. But as HSV-1 can infect the genitals and cause genital herpes, HSV-2 can pass from one person’s genitals to another person’s mouth, resulting in oral herpes.
When is Herpes Most Contagious?
Herpes is most easily spread when a sore is present, but it is also often spread at other times too. Some people notice itching, tingling or other sensations before they see anything on their skin. These are called "Prodromal Symptoms" and they warn that virus may be present on the skin. Herpes is most likely to be spread from the time these first symptoms are noticed until the area is completely healed and the skin looks normal again. Sexual contact (oral, vaginal, or anal) is very risky during this time. A person has about a 75% chance of contracting herpes during intimate contact with someone actively shedding the virus.
What areas are easily infected with the herpes virus when exposed?
Mucous membranes of the mouth, nostrils, lips, eyelids
Skin of the oral area
Mucous membranes of the genital area and anus
Skin of the genital area
Skin that has a sore, abrasion, cut or tear providing entry for the virus
The mucous membranes, highly porous tissues involving absorption and secretion, line cavities of the body exposed to the environment. They are continuous with the skin and reside in the nostrils, the mouth, the lips, the eyelids, the ears, the genital area, and the anus.
These membranes are designed to trap unwanted and harmful pathogens with mucous. At which point, the immune system is sent to kill the otherwise invasive infections trapped in the mucosa. However, the immune system is not able to combat all pathogens.
In the case of HSV and other STD’s, the mucous membranes trap the pathogen, providing an entry point to the body, The immune system is then unable to effectively combat the infection, and the pathogen enters the system.
Can Herpes be Transmitted Without Symptoms?
Yes, this is called “Asymptomatic Transmission”. Many genital herpes infections are spread from persons who are asymptomatic “shedders" of the virus, with no symptoms at all.
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.
Do People Always Know They are Infected with Herpes?
HSV 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.
The only way to totally avoid contracting herpes and other STD’s is to abstain from kissing, vaginal sex, oral sex, and anal sex.
Can HSV Spread to Other Parts of My Body?
You can spread the virus from the location of an outbreak to other places on the body by touching the sore(s). The fingers, eyes, and other body areas can accidentally become infected in this way. Preventing self-infection is simple. Do not touch the area during an outbreak. If you do, wash your hands as soon as possible. The herpes virus is easily killed with soap and water.
Can Babies Get Herpes?
What about pregnancy? Can babies get herpes?
Yes, babies can become infected with the herpes virus, and this can be very dangerous. If you've been exposed to herpes, you need to talk with your healthcare provider about it before you get pregnant. This is important even if you've never had symptoms or haven't had a recurrence in a long time.
The healthcare provider might arrange a test to see if virus is present when you go into labor. In addition, you should be examined to see if you have herpes at labor and should notify the healthcare provider if you think you have active symptoms at that time.
If no virus is found in the birth canal and there are no symptoms or signs of an outbreak, a vaginal delivery is considered safe. If herpes is present in the birth canal near the time of delivery, a cesarean section might be necessary to protect the newborn from coming into direct contact with the virus.
Babies also can get herpes if they are kissed by someone with a cold sore. A young baby cannot fight off infections as easily as an adult can, so serious problems might result. It's important that you do not kiss a baby when you have a cold sore.
Can I get Herpes From a Toilet Seat?
HSV cannot survive for a long time on a non-living surface, so there is no real risk of getting herpes from a toilet seat, or hot tub, for example.