Herpes viruses are infectious agents spread by contact. Common cold and flu viruses, which are airborne in tiny droplets, can be contracted by simply breathing the contaminated air from others; no direct contact is needed at all. Herpes, however, must be contracted from another individual. Direct contact must be made. Break the chain of direct contact, and herpes would cease to be an epidemic.
Facial herpes, the most common variety, is usually transmitted by kissing while a sore is present on the lips, mouth, or face. Genital herpes is also spread by direct contact, usually during sex. The soft skin and mucous membranes of the genital area are permeable enough to allow entry of the herpes virus. In less delicate areas, the virus needs a break in the skin or an orifice in order to gain entry to the body.
Herpes also must be contracted during a time other than the latent period. During active periods there is usually enough virus present on the surface of the body to infect someone if he comes in contact with it. Fortunately, the area of infection is usually fairly well localized, so that prevention can be effected as long as some caution is exercise Remember that not everyone who comes into contact wit the virus will become infected with the disease. Other factor come into play. One of the variables is the amount of virus that enters the body through the mucous membranes or break in the skin. Whether or not the person has any degree of immunity to the virus is another variable. The overall stat of health and resistance to any kind of infection is ye another.
WHEN ARE YOU INFECTIOUS?
Prodromes vary from person to person, as does the ability to detect the prodromal signs. Knowing your prodromal signs is important. The minute you experience the tingling, itching, or whatever sign you have grown to know, you must, from that moment, consider yourself contagious. These warning signs indicate that there is probably viral activity near the surface of the skin. Most likely you will have evidence of sores a short time later.
During prodromal periods triggering activities should be avoided. Sex should be avoided because of possible contagion. Friction of sex or masturbation may precipitate a recurrence that the body may otherwise successfully fight off. It is not unusual for a patient to report breaking out in sores the day after making love during a prodromal period.
Once any sign appears on the skin, you must assume herpes virus is present. The fluid in blisters is high in concentrations of virus. Once the lesions begin to heal and scab over, viruses are still present. You should assume contagion and avoid triggering aggravation until the skin is completely healed.
Some people seem to feel that anyone with herpes should limit sexual involvement to others with the disease. This belief is probably fed by the myth that two people with herpes do not have to worry about cross infection. The truth is that they have to be just as careful as others about physical contact during an episode, because they may have different strains of the virus.
Avoiding autoinnoculation and the inoculation of others is important. It is not easy to leave the sores alone. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have touched them. Here are some tips to help you in preventing the spread of the virus:
• Don’t poke or probe the sores.
• Don’t lick a sore on your lip.
• Don’t touch sores on the genitals while urinating.
• Don’t use saliva as a wetting agent for your contact lenses.
• Don’t use a lip balm on the sore and then apply it to the uninfected part of the lip. Don’t play with facial hair such as a moustache or beard while you have a sore on the face.
• Don’t smoke cigarettes in such a way as to contact the sore.
• Don’t have oral sex when either partner has an active sore on the genitals or the face. Don’t rest your chin on your hand while relaxing.
• DO wash your hands first thing upon waking in the morning. You may have touched the sores during the night. Above all, wash your hands before rubbing your eyes!
• D0 wash your hands before inserting contact lenses, even when using proper wetting solution.
• DO use common sense. The important thing to remember is the virus is transferable to other parts of your body as well as to other people. The second you inadvertently touch the sore, thoroughly wash your hands.
Know your partner. This will help greatly in the prevention of herpes. That extra measure of caution and patience may pay off with a tremendous dividend of health. If you are with a new partner and not completely confident, use a condom or insist that your partner use one.
Condoms. A condom may be of some help in protecting I male against the shedding of virus from an asymptomatic female. It will provide protection only for the area covered. If there are lesions that cannot be protected, the condom will be of little use. If a woman has lesions that can contact areas not protected by the condom, the same rule applies. You should not have sex during the prodrome or while sores are present, but if you must, you should be aware that applying and removing a condom may aggravate the area and cause the virus to spread or trigger a prodrome into becoming an active episode that may otherwise have been avoided.
If you have herpes you should consider a condom nothing more than a birth control device. With the start of the prodrome until the lesions heal completely, the only sure preventive measure is no intercourse and no direct contact.
INFECTION FROM ASYMPTOMATIC PARTNERS
The question frequently comes up as to whether or not it is possible to contract herpes from a partner who has no symptoms. There are people who have no symptoms or experience such a mild initial attack that it goes unnoticed. Subclinical infections may be quite common and there is no way of telling if clinical recurrences will occur. It is possible for transmission to take place even when there are no obvious symptoms. It is impossible to say to what degree asymptomatic shedding of virus is responsible for transmission of herpes, since it is unknown how much virus is required to cause the disease. Sexually active people with multiple partners should be screened periodically for any STD problems which might otherwise go undetected until more serious symptoms become evident.