The Run Down: What herpes is and how it is spread.
Why we need to pay attention…
Genital herpes and cold sores (conditions which are both caused by the Herpes simplex virus [HSV]) are contagious. Unlike some viruses, herpes is generally only spread by direct skin to skin contact (or direct contact with the active infection).
The complication however is that herpes can be spread at times when there are no symptoms at all, due to what is referred to as Asymptomatic Viral Shedding.
Genital herpes is considered by all medical authorities (including the CDC and American Health Association) as a virus that is NOT spread via a toilet seat.
You cannot catch herpes from saliva, body fluids, coughing or through the air. It is also not passed on genetically or through the blood stream. Herpes can be contracted in the womb but this is a very different and rare situation and can only happen if a women who has never had an herpes infection before becomes exposed to the virus during her pregnancy. As I mentioned, this occurrence (known as neo-natal herpes) is rare and preventable.
If a woman has already been exposed to the herpes virus prior to becoming pregnant then the antibodies that her body develops will be sufficient to protect her baby during pregnancy.
Long story short, herpes can be spread to a significant other through direct contact with the infected area and this is one of the most important concerns that we face when diagnosed with herpes.
Do not, I repeat DO NOT let a little virus like herpes take control of you. YOU can take control of this culprit by:
a) Listening to your body
b) Taking care of your symptoms
c) Using sensible safe-sex precautions, and
d) Communicating with your partners
1. The first issue (which also happens to be one of the hardest) is communication.
You need to inform your partner if you have this virus before putting them at risk of contracting it. The tricky situation with herpes (and yes, herpes includes cold sores) is that the virus can spread even when there are no signs or symptoms. At this point in time, herpes is also incurable. This does not mean that you cannot live an awesome, healthy and happy life with great sex – but it does mean that you need to be mindful of passing it on and to do this, you need to inform a partner before you put them at any risk. There are no if, buts or maybe’s about this. You must tell them.
Ok, so this is easier said then done, but there are some tips that can make the process easier.. timing, location and your attitude can all make a big difference. This is one article that I found helpful here, it has some practical pointers that can help you to prepare: The Herpes Talk – tips for telling someone new that you have herpes.
The other aspect of communication is that once you are in a relationship you need to be honest about when you are feeling symptoms so that you can work together to avoid all contact with the infection so that you can prevent transmitting it.
2. Avoiding contact with the area during “high risk” times will reduce your chance of spreading herpes dramatically.
High risk times are:
- Any time that you notice a sign or symptom, even if there is nothing visible on the skin (including itching, tingling, body aches, redness and other signs that the virus may be active or traveling along the nerve pathways)
- Any time during an ‘outbreak’, from the moment it begins until the time when the sore or infection has healed
- Up until approximately 7 days after the infection has healed and the skin has returned to normal. This is an important time to avoid contact as there is likely to be virus lingering on in the area even once the symptoms have gone. This is the most common time period for ‘Asymptomatic Viral Shedding’ to occur.
3. Condoms and safe sex precautions can halve the risk.
The chance of spreading herpes to an uninfected partner is approximately 4 to 10% (depending on whether you are male or female) and this risk can be sliced in half by taking sensible precautions – such as avoiding contact during noticeable symptoms and using latex condoms or dental dams in between outbreaks to guard against shedding. Dental dams are coined as being the female condom, it is similar to a sheet of latex that can be placed over the vagina during oral sex.
4. There are medications and herbs that may help to reduce the chance of ‘Viral Shedding’. This may be a consideration to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus to a partner when there are no symptoms.
If you are becoming intimate with someone then you may be interested in taking a medication or herbal supplement to help reduce the chance of ‘Asymptomatic Viral Shedding’ – this is the reason why the herpes virus can be spread at times when there are no symptoms. Taking daily Valtrex has been proven in Clinical Trials to reduce viral shedding by up to 40%. Combine this with the prevention methods above and the chances of transmission are extremely minimal.
However, in saying this, it is very important that you consult with your Doctor regarding the pros and cons of taking this medication. Valtrex is a drug which can have side-effects (not everyone experiences side-effects but they are possible and range from nausea and headaches to hair-loss). Depending on where in the world you live and what type of insurance you have, Valtrex medication could also be costly to take on an ongoing basis. A cheaper version of this medication is called Acyclovir. It is generally equally as effective as Valtrex but needs to be taken more often because it is not as concentrated.
A natural alternative is to boost the body’s immune system (through positive diet and lifestyle changes) and to target and deactivate the herpes virus internally with anti-viral herbs.
Medicinal herbs (which are extractions made from various roots, berries, flowers, plants and bark) can be very powerful and some herbs have even been proven to reduce ‘Viral Shedding’ in Clinical Trials, one such herb is Olive Leaf (Olea europaea). One combination that could be helpful to dominate the virus into submission is Olive leaf, Andrographis and Echinacea.
The reason for this is that Andrographis has been proven to interfere with viral replication and the functioning of viruses (in particular the way that a virus alters healthy DNA). Andrographis even has the ability to assist cells that are already infected by a virus. Echinacea is a powerful preventative herb, which also increases the effectiveness of Andrographis when taken together. This is an excellent combo for helping to prevent herpes outbreaks while possibly reducing the incidence of Viral Shedding.
There have not yet been clinical trials to specifically study the rate of transmission in HSV-2 affected patients and their partners while taking these herbs, however, the results from the current Clinical Trials data (including herpes studies in humans) is very encouraging, particularly for people who are interested in using complimentary alternatives with limited side-effects, if any.
So in summary, you can reduce the small risk of transmitting herpes even further through:
- Communicating with your partner about when you are feeling symptoms
- Abstaining from sex or contact with the area during “high risk” times (this includes from the moment you notice symptoms, while they are present and about a week after they have gone away).
- Sensible safe sex practices (such as using latex condoms or dental dams when possible – even though condoms are not a 100% guarantee they have been proven to cut the risk of transmission by about half).
- Taking Valtrex or Supplements which may help to reduce the incidence of viral shedding (such as a herb formula containing Andrographis, Olive Leaf and Echinacea).