Oral herpes is one of the world’s most infectious diseases. Some epidemiologists estimate that up to 90 per cent of all the people in certain socioeconomic groups are eventually exposed to the disease.
Reactions to the infection, however, are highly variable. Some people catch the disease as children when they are sharing cups or bottles or toothbrushes, and have a single severe outbreak, never to have a problem again for the rest of their lives. Some people catch the disease as children, and start having regular outbreaks once or twice or even half a dozen times a year after puberty. And others catch this disease and never have any symptoms at all, although they are capable of infecting others.
The many variables in the severity of this disease make knowing which precautions are necessary and which precautions are not a daunting task. Knowledgeable couples who are honest with each other, however, can keep each other safe. Here are seven things every couple needs to know about oral herpes transmission.
- Oral herpes is communicated by skin to skin contact or by shared saliva.
- The stages of oral herpes vary from person to person.
- Outbreaks of oral herpes usually occur after a “trigger.”
- It’s possible to get a genital infection with oral herpes.
- If you have had multiple partners, it’s not easy to determine which one gave you the virus.
- 6. If you have ever been infected with oral herpes (HSV-1), you may not have any symptoms when you are infected with genital herpes (HSV-2).
- The longer you have had oral herpes, the less often you will have outbreaks.
The most common way to get oral herpes is kissing someone who has a cold sore. It’s possible to get the virus while the infected person is “shedding” the virus but the blister has not yet formed, and some people simply never get cold sores or fever blisters at all even though they can infect others with the virus. But you can’t catch it from a sneeze, or from any shared drinking glass or shared eating utensil for more than a few seconds after the infected person has used it.
Oral herpes does not always cause outbreaks. Some people never have outbreaks. Some people have outbreaks up to six times a year. And the virus can lie dormant for years or decades until something triggers the formation of cold sores or fever blisters.
The herpesvirus hibernates until its home is threatened. Then it multiplies quickly and uses the nerve it lives in as an escape route to get out of the host body so it can infect someone else. The immune system attempts to kill the virus by destroying the skin it reaches on the way out, with a blister.
Dental work that “touches a nerve” often leads to an outbreak. If you have herpes, make sure your dentist knows, so you can get prescription for a medication to stop blisters.
Other common triggers for cold sores and fever blisters of oral herpes include blows to the face and other kinds of infections. But the single most frequent trigger for oral herpes is sunburn-and wearing a hat or using sunblock can stop it.
The virus that most commonly causes oral herpes, herpes simplex virus 1, also known as HSV-1, prefers to infect the mouth and lips. If someone with a cold sore performs oral sex, however, it can cause a genital infection. This kind of herpes is a lot less severe than the kind of herpes that usually causes genital infections, HSV-2, and once you have been infected with HSV-1, you have some-but not total-immune resistance to HSV-2.
Couples often break up over the issue of “giving me herpes,” but sometimes the party who gets the blame is not really guilty. Here’s an example.
Tom and Tina started living together, and about a year later Tina, who had never had a cold sore or fever blisters in her life, developed a serious oral herpes infection. She blamed Tom, who, during the stress of breaking up, developed fever blisters of his own. But what neither Tom nor Tina will ever know is whether one or both of them had the infection before they ever met, and they had just never had any symptoms. Oral herpes does not always cause symptoms.
HSV-2, the “genital” form of herpes, can produce devastating symptoms-unless your body has already trained your immune system to fight HSV-1. If you have had oral herpes, you are more likely to catch genital herpes and pass it on without even knowing you have the disease.
If you were infected with oral herpes when you were a small child, and you only started having outbreaks as a young adult, the good news, the older you get, the less often you will get cold sores or fever blisters.
Oral herpes does not have ruin your sex life. Most couples who deal with oral herpes are able to have a full and fulfilling sex life-with special care taken to avoid contact during outbreaks.