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Q.

herpes transmission, somewhat complicated question

I have genital herpes but no outbreaks after the initial one. My partner got it from me and has genital outbreaks. We're wondering if we're able to spread it to each other, in areas where we haven't had outbreaks, during shedding (not active outbreak). Seems obvious that we could spread it around while there are lesions, so we're careful during her outbreaks. But, the big mystery is, can we spread it to new areas during shedding ? Thanks a million. We've been searching hard for the answer.

Related Topics: Genital Herpes, Herpes
 

Answers From Experts & Organizations (1)

Primary Care
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27,124 Helpful Votes
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A.

Unfortunately, you can. Genital herpes can end up on your mouth through oral sex, for instance. And, it is possible for this to happen even when you do not have active lesions. This is the chance that you will both need to take if this was your underlying concern.  You have most likely seen many people with cold sores/or fever blisters. These are typically type 1 herpes lesions, but you can get type 2 lesions (genital types) on your mouth.

With that said, you are both actively producing antibodies to suppress the genital outbreaks. Theoretically, this should limit the spread to other areas, but not totally eliminate the possibility. The fact that you both have herpes not at least solves part of the problem.  If one of you has active lesions, I am sure that sexual activity would not be high on your to-do list, at least until you are better.

Are you both taking suppression drugs? These are daily, anti-herpes medicines you can take to limit recurrent outbreaks.

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You have to differentiate between what is likely and what is theoretically possible and what is the worst possible scenario if the thing that you do not want to happen, happens.  For example, it is normally accepted that people do not catch measles twice.  When we catch an infection we make antibodies to fight that infection and to prevent us from catching it again.  That said, it is possible to find people who have caught measles twice, so it is not impossible.

 

In the case of herpes simplex, the virus is usually caught on one part of the body.  We even give it a different name if it is caught in a different place: 'genital herpes' or 'cold sore' or 'whitlow' (on the finger or hand).  Though the virus may be confined to one dermatome, our antibodies cover the whole body and usually prevent reinfection on different sites.  In other words, our bodies are primed to prevent reinfection.  If reinfection does (unusually) happen, it tends to happen to people whose immune systems are weakened by other infections or conditions and not to average, healthy individuals.

 

If reinfection does take place (and I stress, it is rare) then you will have caught a cold sore on the lip.  Around three quarters of adults have caught a facial cold sore infection by middle age and most of them notice little or nothing in the way of symptoms or recurrences.  Let's not get hysterical about the common cold sore.    

 

Shedding is most likely to be happening in the first year or so and declines thereafter.  By its very nature, shedding is virus on the skin at a low level so is unlikely to be present in sufficient quantity to overwhelm the immune system on a different part of the body of a person who already has antibodies.    

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Dr. Moser, thanks for your answer.  Trying to reply to your post but can't seem to do that (I'm new to WebMD) so I'll post an "answer".

Answer is, no, neither of us are taking meds. I've been reading about the various meds. Wondering which one(s) you would recommend, and why? FYI, I never have outbreaks but she does. Two since contracting it from me 4 months ago.

Thank you.

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