6 Degrees of Herpes

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Have you heard of the 6 Degrees of Separation theory? Everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by six links. For example, I am indirectly BFF’s with at least one of last night’s Oscar winners. How? I have a friend who’s an assistant at a film company. Her supervisor’s boss is friends with the director of one of the movies featuring an Oscar winner (I think). And the director is great friends with at least one of the Oscar winners. Make sense? Hopefully your answer is YES.

Now, have you heard of the 6 Degrees of Herpes theory? Probably not, because I just made it up. Theoretically, you know someone who knows someone (times 5) that has genital herpes. While my theory may not be scientific, here’s something that is: In the United States, about one out of six people, aged 14 to 49 years, have genital herpes. So it really is possible that you do know someone who knows someone (times 5) that has genital herpes. Also, keep in mind that most people infected show no symptoms or mistake genital herpes for a skin condition.

Genital herpes is not an STD that you can make disappear with the snap of a finger or an antibiotic. Once you’re infected, you have it forever (forever, ever, forever, ever?). Since there is no cure for herpes (fingers crossed that the future doctors and scientists discover one asap), the best thing to do is to prevent yourself from getting it in the first place.

Genital herpes is an STD caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2), but most cases are caused by HSV-2. Most people infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2 have no or only minimal signs or symptoms. Usually, one or more blisters form on or around the genitals or rectum. The blisters break and then POOF! tender ulcers (sores) are left, which can take 2-4 weeks to heal the first time they occur.

Usually, another outbreak can appear weeks or months after the first, but it almost always is less severe and shorter than the first outbreak.  Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years. The first outbreak usually occurs 2 days to 2 weeks after the infection. If you think you got infected or experience any symptoms, get checked out by your health provider asap.

For the most part, a person can only get HSV-2 during sexual contact with someone who has a genital HSV-2 infection. The infected partner may or may not have a visible sore. So choose wisely my friend. On the other end, HSV-1 generally causes infections of the mouth and lips, so-called “fever blisters.” Genital HSV-1 infection is caused by (you guessed it!) oral-genital or genital-genital contact with a person infected with HSV-1.

Complications with herpes can happen. Genital herpes can cause recurrent genital sores in many adults. For people with suppressed immune systems, a herpes infection can be severe. Also, it’s very important that pregnant women avoid contracting herpes because it puts the baby at risk of getting the virus as well. If a pregnant woman has genital herpes, a cesarean delivery is usually performed. Fortunately, the chance of a baby getting herpes from the infected mother is rare. In addition to the physical discomfort, herpes also causes psychological distress for those who know they’re infected.

Like I said earlier, there is no cure for genital herpes. However, there is medical treatment. Antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication.  In addition, daily suppressive therapy for symptomatic herpes can reduce transmission to partners.

With all that said, one question remains: How can herpes be prevented?

  1. Abstinence
  2. Be in a long-term monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected
  3. Use latex condoms correctly and consistently (Note: genital herpes can also occur in both male and female genital areas that aren’t covered by a condom)


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