In just a fraction of a second, Google can place 110 million results for the keyword “herpes” on your computer screen. But with so much information at your fingertips, it’s a challenge to find reliable information about your herpes infection.
Myths about herpes are rampant, so let’s debunk the 13 most popular myths about herpes and help you find the accurate information you need to properly manage every herpes outbreak.
Myth: Herpes Is Rare and You’re Unlikely to Get It
Of all the myths about herpes, this is one of the most prevalent. Many people assume that herpes is rare and difficult to contract, but the exact opposite is actually true.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 3.7 billion people under age 50 have the herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) virus. That’s about 67% of the world population, so if you do have herpes, you’re in the majority. Meanwhile, approximately 491 million people aged 15 to 49 have herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the sexually transmitted infection that causes genital herpes.
Myth: A Cold Sore on the Mouth Means You’ve Got an STD
If cold sores sometimes develop around your mouth, it doesn’t automatically mean you have an STD. The type of herpes that causes cold sores is herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). It isn’t a sexually transmitted disease at all; HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact.
Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is the form of herpes categorized as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but it doesn’t cause cold sores. HSV-2 is the main cause of genital herpes. Just like HSV-1, HSV-2 does not yet have a cure, so it’s a lifelong disease.
Myth: Herpes Only Affects the Genitals
The word “herpes” is often associated with genital herpes. This explains why one of the many myths about herpes claims that this condition only affects the genitals. Herpes actually exists in two forms: herpes simplex virus type 1 and herpes simplex virus type 2.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is a highly contagious infection known mainly for causing cold sores around the mouth. The CDC estimates that about 47.8% of Americans aged 14 to 49 have HSV-1, though most of them never develop symptoms.
Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is the form of herpes most likely to affect the genitals. This type of herpes isn’t quite as common; it impacts about 12% of American adults.
Myth: A Canker Sore is the Same Thing as Herpes
In the myths about herpes, cold sores and canker sores are often confused as the same thing, but they’re actually two distinct problems.
Herpes is a contagious virus that spreads from one person to another. It’s an incurable condition that may present outbreaks of ulcers around the mouth or genitals from time to time. Herpes sores and ulcers are filled with pus and eventually burst and cause pain and discomfort until they heal.
Canker sores, on the other hand, are non-viral ulcers that form on the inside of the lips and cheeks. Unlike cold sores, canker sores resemble pink craters with a soft white border. Canker sores are usually minor, appearing a few times per year and lasting around one week. But for some, canker sores cause debilitating pain and last two weeks or more.
Myth: You Can’t Get Herpes While Wearing a Condom
The herpes virus is always active in the body, even when no sores are present. Wearing a condom is an important preventative measure if you or your partner has herpes, but it can’t guarantee complete protection. The herpes virus also lives outside of the area that a condom covers, so it can still spread from one person to another.
If you’re concerned about contracting herpes, don’t have sex if your partner has an active herpes outbreak. The virus is more likely to spread when active sores and ulcers exist. It’s also important to make sure the infected person regularly takes antiviral medicine to keep the infection under control.
Myth: Someone Without Symptoms Isn’t Infectious
This is one of the most dangerous myths about herpes because it creates a false sense of security. The truth is that people with herpes are always infectious, even if they don’t have symptoms.
The herpes virus is highly contagious when wet, open, active sores are present, but it can also be spread when no outward signs of herpes exist. Skin-to-skin contact, kissing, and sexual activity can all cause the spread of herpes. In fact, most people contract herpes from someone who doesn’t have any sores at all!
Myth: Herpes Can Be Transmitted From Genitals to Mouth
Genital herpes rarely spreads to the mouth, but it’s important to understand how this infectious agent may transmit through oral sex.
The mouth is lined with mucous membranes, which are vulnerable to infection. If the genital area of a person infected with HSV-2 makes physical contact with the mucous membranes of another person’s mouth, the virus has a chance to enter that person’s nervous system.
Myth: Someone Would Know They Have HSV-2 and Tell You About It
Herpes is a sneaky infection; it can exist in the body for months or even years without showing symptoms, but it’s still contagious nonetheless. This is why you can’t assume that somebody infected with HSV-2 will know they’re infected or run the risk of transmitting the virus to you.
Even if someone does know they have herpes simplex virus type 2, best known for causing genital herpes, that person may not want to tell you the truth. The infected person may believe one of the myths about herpes that claims the virus is only contagious with active sores and ulcers.
Myth: Giving Birth Always Transmits the Virus to Babies
If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, you may believe the myth that you’ll definitely transmit the virus to your newborn baby. Fortunately, with the right precautions, your baby faces a very small risk of contracting the herpes virus.
When present in newborns, the herpes virus is known as neonatal herpes. This condition may develop when a mother has the HSV-2 virus present in the birth canal during delivery, but it’s rare. Though nearly 25% of pregnant women have genital herpes, only 0.1% of babies born in the U.S. each year get neonatal herpes.
Myth: Herpes Can Be Transmitted Through the Blood
Like most myths about herpes, this one is false. Herpes cannot be transmitted through the blood, but it can be detected through a blood test.
In fact, people with a history of herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2 can safely donate blood as long as:
- -All lesions and infected cold sores are dry and healed
- -They wait at least 48 hours after finishing a round of antiviral treatments
Myth: People With Herpes Wear Condoms Forever in Long-Term Relationships
If you are in a long-term monogamous relationship and your partner is aware of your herpes infection, you may have a conversation discussing the benefits and risks of sex without a condom.
Though there’s always the risk of infection, some couples make the decision to strategically employ precautions that keep them as safe as possible. Such precautions often include:
- -Never having sex during an active herpes outbreak
- -Using antiviral medications
- -Using a dental dam
Myth: It’s Risky to Live With Someone Who Has Herpes
Like so many other myths about herpes, this one isn’t true! It’s not risky to live with someone who has herpes. Aside from sexual contact and kissing, there are very few ways to become infected with the herpes virus.
This means it’s unlikely to contract herpes from the person you live with. You can take extra precautions by never sharing cups, utensils, or drinks, but even this form of indirect contact is improbable.
Myth: There’s a Cure and a Vaccination for Herpes
Unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccination for herpes. The structure and behavior of the herpes simplex virus make it difficult to develop an effective vaccine, though scientists continue to try.
As much as people with herpes wish for a cure, this infection is currently a lifelong condition. But the good news is that antiviral medications and high-powered light treatment with Luminance RED can help to reduce healing time and prevent painful outbreaks.