Dear Dating With Herpes:
My boyfriend was recently diagnosed with genital herpes and I have some questions that I hope you can answer or direct me to the correct source. I can never get a live person with the herpes hotline.
1. What are the chances that I could get herpes from him if he uses a condom? He has no symptoms and has never had an outbreak. He only found out he had it after being tested for it.
Could he “shed” the virus in the area surrounding the penis where its not covered by the condom? Could I get it this way if he has no symptoms and no sores/blisters?
2. If he has no outbreaks should he take valtrex or any other antiviral medication to reduce risk of transmission. His doctor told him no need because he doesn’t have outbreaks.
3. After intercourse when he takes off his condom if i accidentally touch his semen (on my leg or hand or genital area) could I also get herpes.? How long does the virus “live” out of the body?
Signed, Trying to Make Things Work
Dear Trying to Make Things Work:
1. Does your boyfriend know the method by which he was diagnosed with herpes? f he was diagnosed via a swab test, he will know if he has HSV-1 or HSV-2 genitally. Or was he diagnosed by a *type-specific herpes blood test”? The new herpes blood tests are a very reliable way of knowing what type of herpes you carry, whether or not you are currently having symptoms.
2. Have you been tested for herpes recently? If not, you should immediately ask your doctor to give you a *type-specific herpes blood test* for both HSV-1 and HSV-2. Since MOST PEOPLE WITH HERPES DO NOT HAVE NOTICEABLE SYMPTOMS (most of the time), it is possible that you already have some form of herpes but don’t know it. Most doctors do NOT include a herpes blood test when they are testing their patients for other common STD’s. Most people, including YOU, have never been tested for herpes. You might *assume* it was included in the standard STD panel that doctors give. But herpes is NOT included in the standard STD panels. You have to ask your doctor specifically to include a *type-specific herpes blood test for both HSV-1 and HSV-2* or else, you should know that you probably have NEVER been tested for herpes.
3. Everyone is different. Unless your BF has had noticeable outbreaks, you don’t know if or where he might ever shed the virus. Condoms may or may not cover the area where he may potentially shed the virus. It’s impossible to know for sure WHERE or HOW OFTEN your boyfriend might be shedding the virus or not shedding the virus. It could be 2%-10% of days or more or less. But the only way of knowing for sure would be for him to be participating in some sort of clinical study where his genital area was swabbed daily and tested. Using condoms can help reduce the likelihood of spreading herpes to your partner by up to 50%.. Using daily antivirals as suppressive therapy can also reduce the risk of spreading herpes to a partner by up to @ 50%. Together, these practices cannot guarantee that you are 100% risk free, but you are probably way less at risk of getting herpes from your boyfriend than you are of getting herpes or another STD from somebody else who doesn’t even know they have something and is taking no precautions.
If you have been sleeping with your bf for a while, it makes sense for you to also get a *type specific herpes blood test* ASAP. It is possible that you also have HSV-1 or HSV-2, without symptoms, and just don’t know it. If you both already have HSV-2, then using condoms or taking daily antiviral therapy would be totally optional, and not necessary, if you both already have HSV2-.
4. If you get a *type specific herpes blood test* and you are negative for HSV-2, and your boyfriend was positive for HSV-2, then yes, your boyfriend should consider taking Valtrex or Acyclovir as daily antiviral suppressive therapy to help reduce the risk of spreading herpes to you. If his doctor thinks that just because he doesn’t have noticeable symptoms, then he cannot spread the virus, then his doctor is one of the very many doctors who are way out-of-date about genital herpes transmission and prevention. Daily antiviral therapy has been shown to dramatically reduce the number of days of “shedding” the virus, including asymptomic shedding, and is extremely effective. However, this is not a 100% guarantee by any means. There is always a small chance that with or without treatment, your BF may be shedding the virus and potientially spread it to you. However, if you are using both condoms and daily antivirals, then the risk of transmission is pretty small.
5. The Herpes virus is spread via skin to skin contact. Semen does not contain the herpes virus. Also, the herpes virus cannot live long outside the body and there are no known cases of anyone getting herpes from a toilet seat or a towel or anything like that. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and take a shower after sex. But you’re not going to be able to catch herpes from dirty sheets, towels, or toilet seats.
Bottom line: Your boyfriend, like the majority of people with genital herpes, doesn’t experience any noticeable symptoms and only found out about it via a blood test. You might also have genital herpes and not know it. The stigma of genital herpes is really more of a problem than the virus itself. For most people, genital herpes is a minor nuisance if at all, except for the “stigma”, which seems way out of proportion in relation to other STDs and medical conditions. If he is using condoms and taking daily antiviral suppressive therapy, you are unlikely to get herpes from him, but there are no guarantees. In the meantime, you should also take a blood test for genital herpes as a baseline for today – so you know your current herpes status – positive or negative – with or wothout any symptoms. If you already have HSV-2, then you and your boyfriend can forget about taking daily antiviral therapy or using condoms – except as a contraceptive.