10 common myths about herpes, busted

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10 common myths about herpes, busted

Many times in life, it’s the things you don’t know that get you in trouble.  This is so true when it comes to a sexually transmitted infection such as herpes.  Just like the virus it is, when false assumptions abound, they can spread quickly putting people in danger of not really understanding what the herpes virus is and how to protect themselves.

The term “herpes” refers to the herpes simplex viruses which are categorized into two types – herpes type 1 or oral herpes (HSV-1) and herpes type 2 (HSV -2) or genital herpes

To put the myths to rest and the truth into the light, here is what you need to know about herpes and not to let it affect you:

1.  Myth:  Having a cold sore on your mouth can not cause genital herpes

The truth is cold sores are caused by the herpes virus – usually HSV-1.  HSV-1 can be transmitted through oral secretions or sores on the skin through kissing or sharing things such as toothbrushes or eating utensils.  When a person with a cold sore performs oral sex on their partner, this will place their partner at risk of genital herpes. However, most cases of genital herpes are caused by herpes type 2.   Even though the risk for transmission is higher during the initial breakout, even if there are no noticeable blisters, a person can still become infected with it. 

2.  Myth:  If I limit my number of sexual partners, I don’t have to worry

All it takes it just one instance of coming into contact with someone with herpes to spread the virus.  It is nondiscriminatory and does not only inflict “promiscuous” people.  Again, a person can transmit herpes even without visible symptoms – and not know they have it – to another person they have sex with. 

3.  Myth:  Herpes is only transmitted through sexual intercourse

The method of transmission is irrelevant as herpes can be spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

4.  Myth: Using a condom will protect you from getting infected with genital herpes

Condoms are very good and effective at reducing the risk but are not 100% foolproof in keeping you from being infected with herpes.  The herpes virus can be present on skin that may not get completely covered by a condom, making your partner vulnerable putting them at risk of becoming infected.

5.  Myth:  Herpes can be picked up by sitting on a toilet used by someone with it

It is highly unlikely for someone to become infected with herpes by sitting on a toilet.  When exposed to air, the herpes virus quickly dries and a cold, dry surface of a toilet seat makes it even more difficult for the virus to survive for any length of time.  At this time, there have been no proven cases of anyone getting herpes from a toilet seat. 

6.  Myth:  Becoming infected with herpes can cause infertility

Fortunately, genital herpes does not cause infertility like other sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia.  Genital herpes also does not reduce a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant.

7.  Myth:  The herpes virus can be passed down to your baby

Any woman diagnosed with herpes needs to let her gynecologist know this even though it should not prevent a woman from having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.  At the time of labor, if a woman has an outbreak of herpes, her doctor may make the decision to do a cesarean section if necessary.

8.  Myth:  It is not possible to medically manage genital herpes

This is not true.  Even though herpes cannot be cured, it can be managed with antiviral medications which reduce the length, frequency, and severity of a herpes outbreak. By taking these medications, it can also lower the risk of transmitting the virus to your partner. 

9.  Myth:  The symptoms of herpes are always obvious

Herpes is rather sneaky and can be present but without symptoms.  But the most common symptom of herpes is a cold sore which appears as a painful sore on the outer edge of your mouth.  After a few days, they can rupture and as they heal, they start to crust over with a yellowish appearance and then eventually go away.  When the cold sore is present is when the virus is at its peak infectiousness. 

A genital herpes infection can be blisters on or around the vagina or painful urination.  This may be accompanied with a tingling sensation in the affected areas – such as genitalia, buttocks, or thighs – and groups of small red bumps that develop into blisters.  Other symptoms could be running a fever, swollen lymph nodes in the groin, or achy muscles.  Many people may believe they have a cold without realizing it could be herpes. 

10. Myth:  A canker sore is the same thing as a cold sore

Not at all!  Canker sores are a non-contagious, small, grayish ulcer with a red border appearing inside the mouth.  Causes can be due to stress, fatigue, or allergies, but generally they stem from bacteria or a virus that attacks the immune system.  These painful sores usually heal within a week or two.

Cold sores are contagious fluid-filled blisters that erupt around the lips and sometimes under the nose or around the chin.  They are the result of the herpes simplex virus and once infected, the virus remains in the person’s blood stream.