How do I stop my partner from catching herpes?
Reviewed by our clinical team
To understand how to reduce the risk of transmitting herpes to your partner, it’s useful to start by understanding how herpes actually works.
What is herpes?
Herpes is a Greek word that means to “creep” or “spread”. Fittingly, it is a virus that is passed on—or spread—during sexual intercourse.
There are two different herpes simplex viruses, helpfully named HSV 1 and HSV 2. HSV 2 is the more famous of the pair as it is the strand of herpes that most commonly causes infections of the genitals.
Some evidence suggests that if you have been exposed to HSV 1 (which usually shows itself as cold sores) then attacks of HSV 2 are less severe. However there’s no guarantee at all that exposure to one will give you immunity to the other.
Herpes can lie dormant in people – but when it shows itself it is usually around the genitals or mouth area in the form of blister-type sores.
How can you catch herpes?
Like most sexual transmitted infections (STIs), herpes is passed on when someone with an active outbreak of the virus has sexual intercourse (whether vaginal, anal or oral) with a partner. It may also be spread by contact with bodily fluids from an infected person, including blood, saliva, vaginal fluid, semen or any fluid expelled from a weeping herpes blister.
The virus is passed onto the other person through tiny breaks in the mucous membranes or skin. Because viruses are very small, herpes can easily spread even if the breaks are only microscopic. This means you cannot conduct a visual inspection of a partner and guarantee that they will not catch the disease.
It is also worth noting that while the virus is generally passed on during the phase when the blisters are visible on the skin, there is also the possibility of infection spreading even when blisters are not showing.
This is due to something called “asymptomatic shedding”. This is where the virus continues to “shed” into bodily fluids even when dormant. This kind of shedding is most common during the first 12 months of herpes infections. However, it may continue throughout the life of the infection and you cannot guarantee that because you have no visible sores that your partner will not be infected.
In a monogamous relationship, a female partner carries a substantially higher risk of contracting herpes from an infected male partner than vice-versa.
OK, so how do I stop my partner from catching herpes?
There is no guarantee of preventing your partner from catching the herpes virus, but taking a few careful steps can really reduce the risk. Aciclovir is a very common antiviral medicine and is usually taken to treat herpes. Taking Aciclovir will help suppress herpes and will also reduce your chance of passing on the virus to a partner by 50%. However, Aciclovir alone still leaves a female partner with a 5% annual chance of catching the disease.
And of course, to avoid having vaginal, oral or anal sex when you are having a herpes outbreak.
Will treatment prevent my partner from catching herpes?
Taking herpes treatment and using condoms can help reduce the risk of giving your partner herpes. There is also strong evidence that barrier methods of contraception such as condoms, can have a strong impact on the spread of the virus. It is worth noting that condoms are much more effective at preventing male to female infections than female to male infections.
It has been estimated that a combination of Aciclovir and condoms can cut the risks of herpes transmission by up to 75%. A recent study has also shown some promise for the anti-HIV drug, Tenofovir. When used in a gel that is applied vaginally, Tenofovir may reduce sexual transmission of herpes significantly.
Herpes treatment is available by clicking the link below to help suppress a potentially embarrassing virus and reduce your chances of passing it on to your partner.