“I suffer from herpes simplex virus 1 and I get super self conscious about it. I just wish more people could be empathetic if they were educated on it.” (This was submitted through our “Ask Affinity” form.)
First of all, you shouldn’t be self conscious at all! Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is so common that about 90% of American adults have been exposed it.
Additionally, over 3.7 billion people worldwide are infected with HSV-1.
HSV-1 is a sexually transmitted disease, but oral sex or kissing isn’t the only way it can be received. Sharing a drink, utensils, or chapstick can transmit the virus as well. Basically, the virus must enter the body either through a break in the skin (e.g. a paper cut) or a mucous membrane (e.g. the mouth or the genitals). More often than not, no symptoms are shown, so most people don’t even know that they have it.
When symptoms are shown, there is usually only one outbreak. During this outbreak, people may have fluid-filled blisters on the lips, inside the mouth, back of the throat, genitals, or rectum as well as fever, aches, or swollen glands. If there are recurrences, they are typically not as painful or long as the first one. The recurrences will mostly stop after about five years.
If you have HSV-1, it does not mean that you cannot have sex. In fact, research shows that women with HSV-1 only carry a 4 percent risk of transmitting to a male partner during intercourse, and men carry a 10 percent risk of transmitting to a female. Using a condom and taking antiviral drugs can cut the risks down to 1 percent and 2 percent respectively. To be on the safer side, it’s best to have sex when you or your partner are not having an outbreak. Of course, there is still a slight possibility of transmission, so talk to your partner before engaging in sexual activity.
It’s worth noting that if you are pregnant, HSV-1 can be serious for you and/or your child. Miscarriage or premature birth can ensue if HSV-1 is not properly treated. If the virus is passed onto the child, it can receive neonatal herpes, which can be fatal.
However, having HSV-1 is generally nothing to worry about! Encouraging your loved ones to get tested for the HSV-1 and educating yourself about the virus can greatly decreased the stigma surround it.
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