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Navigating initial pain and potential spread to partner

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Hi all,

I am very happy I found this very knowledgeable and supportive community.

I was diagnosed with HSV-1 about two months ago. Tested positive with the IgG test, though I have never had an outbreak and don't know where I have the virus. I was in the middle of a somewhat abusive relationship, so I figured I might as well get an STI test because communication was very difficult and we never even properly talked about STIs. I barely knew about herpes viruses, and I certainly hadn't been tested for it before. My previous STI tests didn't test for HSV, but my new PCP included it for whatever reason (only later did I find out even the CDC doesn't recommend testing for herpes).

Ironically, I got my results when my now-ex was having what I think was a primary outbreak. She had cracked skin on her butt and high fever for a few days. She went to the ER, and they told her it's not a UTI but didn't test her for HSV. She dismissed my suggestion to get tested for HSV because "it is just cracked skin and cannot be herpes". In any case, she wasn't too bothered by my diagnosis, so I didn't think much about it either. We broke up a few weeks later for unrelated reasons.

Now that I'm single again, all the emotions are coming in full force. As I'm dealing with that, I have a couple of questions that people here might have the answer to:

1) Is it possible to find out where the virus is and how often I shed asymptomatically? I know it's most likely oral but it would be good to know for sure. I know that there are some labs that take swabs for shedding purposes but I don't know if those are used for research only or if they offer services to the general public.

2) How likely is it that I infected my ex? She said it was very dry skin on her butt crack that made it uncomfortable to even sit. We mostly had protected sex, with 2-3 exceptions (I was freaking out about her getting pregnant!), but we did have oral sex quite often before my diagnosis. Honestly, I don't want to get in touch with her again because it's been a rough relationship.

Thanks for your help! And apologies for the long rant.

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Hey there @RI_HSV,

I'm really glad you found our wonderful community too! We're here to support you through this journey and provide the knowledge and understanding you need.

First of all, let me assure you that you're not alone in being diagnosed with HSV-1 without ever experiencing an outbreak. It's quite common, and many people have HSV-1 without even realizing it. As you mentioned, about 80-90% of the world's population has HSV-1, primarily orally. (And 80% of people who have herpes don't know they have it!) So, if you received your test results through a blood test, it won't be able to tell you whether the infection is oral or genital unless you have an outbreak.

The important thing to remember is that whether you have HSV-1 orally or genitally, it's actually not as big of a deal as it may seem. Oral HSV-1 — innocently branded as "cold sores" — is incredibly common and doesn't carry the same social stigma as genital herpes (even thought it's basically the same virus!). In fact, most people with oral herpes contracted it during childhood, usually from a well-meaning relative or friend's innocent kiss.

Regarding your questions, let's address them one by one:

  1. Determining the location of the virus and asymptomatic shedding: While there are research labs that conduct swab tests to determine shedding, it's not typically offered to the general public as a routine service. However, it's essential to keep in mind that regardless of the location of the virus, the risk of transmission when no outbreak is present is extremely low. HSV-1 shedding occurs primarily during outbreaks or in the presence of visible symptoms, so the chances of asymptomatic shedding are quite minimal. Download the free ebook and handouts that go into viral shedding rates of HSV-1 vs. HSV-2 oral vs. genital: https://www.herpesopportunity.com/lp/ebook
  2. Likelihood of infecting your ex-partner: It's difficult to determine the exact likelihood of transmission, especially without knowing if your ex-partner has HSV-1 or not. But ironically, the chances of your ex having HSV-1 anyway whether she ever met you or not is extremely high based on thos population numbers mentioned above. For the sake of reasoning this out, let's say you do have asymptomatic genital HSV-1 ... the risk of transmitting genital HSV-1 is relatively low (even lower shedding rates than if you have oral HSV-1 — again, see the handouts for more), especially considering that genital-to-genital transmission of HSV-1 is so rare. (In fact, a renowned herpes researcher, Terri Warren, told me she has never seen a case of genital-to-genital HSV-1 transmission in all her years of practice.)

I understand that it's been a rough relationship, and you may not want to reach out to your ex-partner again. It's essential to focus on your own well-being and moving forward positively.

Remember, you're not defined by your HSV-1 diagnosis. It's a common virus that doesn't have to negatively impact your life or relationships. This community is here to offer support, guidance, and a safe space to share anything you got. We've got your back!

If you have any more questions or need further clarification, don't hesitate to reach out. We're here for you every step of the way.

Keep your head up, stay strong, and remember that you're not alone in this journey!

Note: This is for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis.
I'm not a medical professional, so please take this as friendly peer support. 

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Thank you very much for your reply, Adrial. It certainly helps soothe my mind a bit.

I thought most oral-to-genital (or oral-to-oral for that matter) transmissions were asymptomatic. It looks like shedding can occur asymptomatically often but it's not clear if shedding leads to transmission necessarily. This whole thing is very confusing.

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Perhaps most herpes transmission is asymptomatic, but I'd assume that most herpes transmission happens in general because of ignorance (refer back to that 80% of people who have herpes don't know they have it).

So no, more to your thought: asymptomatic viral shedding doesn't necessarily lead to transmission. In other words, you're not going to automatically pass herpes to your partner every time you asymptomatically shed. If that was the case, then a vast majority of people in the world would have genital herpes. 

Note: This is for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis.
I'm not a medical professional, so please take this as friendly peer support. 

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That makes sense, thanks!

One last question I have is: it seems that the main mode of transmission is through sexual activities like kissing, oral sex and penetration. How likely is it to spread the virus (if you have it orally) through kissing on the cheek or sharing meals, drinks, etc? The internet is full of so much contradicting info, it's hard to separate the facts from the scaremongering.

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Glad that helps! Yeah, when it comes to spreading HSV-1 orally through activities like kissing on the cheek or sharing meals and drinks, the likelihood is actually quite low. The main mode of transmission for HSV-1 is through direct contact with the affected area, such as the mouth or lips, during activities like kissing, oral sex, or penetration. So, the risk of transmission through casual activities like cheek kisses or sharing meals and drinks is minimal.

I totally get that the internet is chock-full of fear-mongering, with conflicting information that can make you second-guess everything. But here's the deal: HSV is not easily transmitted through casual contact or inanimate objects. The virus is quite fragile and doesn't survive for long outside the body. So, yes, of course practice good hygiene and avoid sharing personal items during an active outbreak, and know it's not something to be paranoid about; the risk of transmission through these everyday activities is generally very low.

Remember, the key to preventing transmission is being aware of your own body and taking precautions during times of active outbreaks or visible symptoms. And of course have open and honest communication with potential partners about your herpes status so they can make informed decisions about their own risk and taking any necessary precautions.

Please don't let fear or misinformation dictate your actions. By staying informed, practicing safe behaviors during outbreaks, and being open in your communication, you can navigate your relationships with confidence and reduce the risk of transmission.

Note: This is for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis.
I'm not a medical professional, so please take this as friendly peer support. 

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At least some paranoia comes with the territory, especially thanks to the unnecessary/unfortunate stigma infused into our culture, so you're not alone in it! And there are 2 components to it dying down: Yes, time certainly helps, but the key to letting time do its job is choosing a vigilant, optimistic and grounded perspective. And that's the part that just takes practice. 😉 You got this!  

Note: This is for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis.
I'm not a medical professional, so please take this as friendly peer support. 

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