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Questions about herpes transmission


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Hi everyone, I just found out in December that I have HSV 2. I had some weird rash on my tongue, went to the dr and she immediately dx'd it as herpes, and did the bloodwork to confirm (which obviously came back + if I know it's type 2) I feel ... icky ... but that's another story in itself. Considering I'm already infected, I am hugely worried about transmitting it to other people, and not just sexual partners. The doctor informed me that I am only contagious during or right before an outbreak when I feel the tingling/burning starting, and that I am only contagious from my mouth. I asked if I could pass it on through intercourse itself, she said again, no, just from my mouth. I don't understand this, considering the virus is in my blood, which means it's running through my entire body, so I'm not sure if this information is accurate? Does anyone know? 

 

Also, when I say not just sexual partners it's because it's in my mouth. I have children and am petrified that kissing them (I've promptly STOPPED kissing them on the mouth or face!) or them drinking out of my cup, or heck, even just me touching my mouth and perhaps saliva being on my fingers and then touching items they touch or holding their hand and then they put their hands in their mouths may give them the virus. Do I have reason to be worried about this? I basically feel like a contagion walking around that may inadvertently affect people just by touching things, and it's seriously effecting my self worth. Can someone shed more light on this? Thanks! :)

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Hey newlydxd! Thanks for reaching out here. First off, let me say that I'm not a doctor, but I have experience in this and a lot of support groups under my belt. I do know that there is limited research around this area of oral HSV2. Here's what I know ... HSV1 and HSV2 tend to have sites of preference (HSV1 tends to be oral and HSV2 tends to be genital), but either can end up in either location if a herpes outbreak on your partner makes skin-to-skin contact with either your mouth or genitals. (Also, keep in mind that a first herpes outbreak is almost always the worst outbreak you'll ever have; based on the stats, you might not even have another outbreak, especially since HSV2 prefers the genitals and not the mouth.)

 

What's interesting is the imbalanced herpes stigma: 16% of Americans have genital herpes (a lot of stigma) while 80% of Americans have oral herpes (virtually zero stigma). Ask someone who has oral herpes if they feel dirty; the answer will be overwhelmingly "no." Asking someone with genital herpes is another story. So what about your case of having the strain of the virus orally that is usually associated with genital herpes? So should you feel "icky" about something that to so many is simply cold sores? That's your decision, but I'd lovingly suggest that you see yourself as not "infected" with some "disease" and simply realize that you have acquired a simple skin condition. The words you use can really affect how you feel about herpes; the power of words is immense. 

 

And to answer your specific "logistical" questions:

 

1) Yes, the antibodies for the virus can be found in the blood. That's why the IgG herpes blood test works so well to get a herpes diagnosis. The virus itself resides in the sacral ganglia at the base of the spine (for genital herpes) and in the trigminal ganglia near the top of the spine (for oral herpes). In your case, it would seem that your HSV2 resides in the top of the spine, so that is why is only transmissible orally. 

 

2) Your kids can't get herpes from your saliva and sharing drinks. The second the virus is outside of the body, it dies. Herpes can ONLY be transmitted from skin-to-skin contact. You should know that there is such a thing as viral shedding where the virus silently sheds around 5-10% of the time (depending on what study you read). From the sounds of it, you FEEL a whole lot more infectious than you actually ARE. It's good to be cautious about kissing your children during an active outbreak, but any other time, the chances of passing the virus is very, very low. And in order to pass the virus, there needs to be an opening in the skin of the recipient. (Skin is a natural incredibly effective barrier to the virus having access to the body.) PLEASE don't stop kissing your kids altogether. And you are certainly NOT a walking contagion! Not in the slightest! Stop beating yourself up!

 

You know, after getting a feel for how herpes interacts with your body, you might get a feel for when herpes is shedding or when an outbreak is coming up (it feels like a tingling for most people). In fact, I'd assume that one of the main reasons why 80% of Americans have oral herpes is because of the lack of the oral herpes stigma, and because people with active cold sore outbreaks on their lips kiss their family members not realizing it's transmissible. But in your case, the lack of an active cold sore that can make direct skin-to-skin contact with a break in the skin of your kids makes it very unlikely. 

 

In short, you are in the same boat as 80% of Americans with oral herpes. I understand the paranoia of passing it on, but just give it some time to understand how the virus interacts with your body. Having herpes is not a big deal, ultimately, even though it feels like it now. Please let us know if you need any other help! And please consider joining our virtual herpes support group!

Notes:

  • My mother is now in hospice with end-stage cancer, so I am at her house a lot these days helping where I can until she passes. Thank you in advance for understanding if I am not as quick to respond as I normally would be. This is a precious and bittersweet time …
  • This content 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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