It is possible to get herpes from kissing as well as from other types of oral contact with the virus. There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 is associated with oral herpes and is easily spread through kissing. HSV-2 causes genital herpes. It is unlikely that you will get HSV-2 from kissing on the mouth, but you can get it from oral sex.
How Is HSV-1 Typically Transmitted?
HSV-1 is usually transmitted through oral contact, like kissing. You can also transmit HSV-1 through oral sex, vaginal or anal intercourse, and the use of sex toys. Once you’ve contracted HSV-1, it typically moves to nerve endings near the ear where it will lay dormant between outbreaks. Since the virus lives closer to the mouth, it’s more easily spread through oral contact.
How Is HSV-2 Typically Transmitted?
HSV-2 is usually transmitted through sexual contact. You can catch HSV-2 through your mucous membranes or a break in your skin. These areas must come into contact with an infected person’s mucous membranes, genital or oral secretions, or active lesions. Mucous membranes cover the inside of the body as well as the inside of the mouth. Therefore, it is possible to contract HSV-2 through oral sex. However, the mouth is not as vulnerable to HSV-2 transmission as the vagina and vulva are.
If you contract HSV-2 through oral sex, the virus may travel to the nerve endings near the ear and establish dormancy there, as in HSV-1. In this case, it will cause oral symptoms rather than genital symptoms. Genital herpes lies dormant in the nerve endings at the base of the spine.
What Are the Symptoms of Herpes?
Herpes symptoms can range from mild to severe. In some cases, individuals have herpes with no visible signs or symptoms. In this case, they may pass it to a partner without ever realizing that they had it. Oral herpes manifests through cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth. You may also feel a tingling sensation with these sores.
Less commonly, HSV-1 can cause ocular herpes in the eye, which may lead to blindness. Rarely, herpes can transfer to the brain, a condition known as herpes encephalitis.
Genital herpes causes small blisters on the genitals, buttocks, or thighs. These look like pimples when they first appear. The lesions then break open, causing painful sores that will scab over in a few weeks. The first outbreak typically takes longer to heal than subsequent outbreaks.
The first occurrence of both genital and oral herpes is the worst. The lesions are often accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes or fever.
After an outbreak, the virus will lie dormant for a period of time. When it becomes active again, it enters a stage known as “shedding.” When the virus is shedding, it’s most susceptible to transmission. Active lesions are a sure sign that herpes is shedding. However, the virus may shed without the presence of sores, making it possible to unknowingly spread herpes.
How Can I Get Tested for Herpes?
Herpes testing isn’t generally recommended unless you have an active outbreak. If you have lesions, your doctor can swab these to determine whether you have herpes. It’s also possible to get a blood test for herpes, but this is not standard procedure. If you simply ask your doctor to screen you for STDs, they may or may not include a herpes test. You typically have to ask for this test specifically.
Outside of an active outbreak, you may want to have herpes testing if you know that your partner has herpes or if you’ve had several new sexual partners. Since herpes isn’t spread through kissing as often, you typically do not need to get tested for herpes simply because you kissed someone.
What Should I Do If I Have Herpes?
If you’re diagnosed with herpes, speak with your medical provider about the best course of action. There is no cure for herpes, but it is manageable with medication, and many people don’t experience symptoms. During the initial outbreak, your doctor may prescribe 7 to 10 days of antiviral therapy. This typically helps the sores heal faster. Antiviral drugs, like valacyclovir, can help during subsequent outbreaks as well. If you’ve been previously diagnosed with herpes, Nurx can prescribe oral or genital herpes treatment online and deliver the medication to your door with free shipping. To request herpes treatment from Nurx, get started here.
Patients who have frequent outbreaks can take an antiviral drug daily as suppressive therapy. Doing so can decrease the number of outbreaks you’ll get. It also shortens the duration of outbreaks and minimizes some symptoms.
How Can I Avoid Getting Herpes?
The best way to prevent the transmission of herpes is by using a condom or other barrier method of protection. Using protection is especially important if you know that your partner has herpes. You can typically prevent the transmission of oral herpes by avoiding skin-to-skin contact with an infected person during an outbreak. If someone has a fever blister or cold sore, do not kiss them or receive oral sex from them until the sores are fully healed.
Herpes is very common. The CDC estimates that 776,000 people in the United States get a new genital herpes infection every year. The following statistics can help you understand the scope of herpes infections better.
- It’s estimated that 87.4 percent of 14- to 49-year-olds infected with HSV-2 in the United States have not received a clinical diagnosis.
- In the United States, 11.9 percent of people age 14 to 49 have HSV-2.
- HSV-2 impacts 15.9 percent of women and 8.2 percent of men because it’s more easily transmitted to women.
- The percentage of people infected with HSV-2 decreased from 18 percent in 1999-2000 to 12.1 percent in 2015-2016.
As these statistics make clear, many people live with herpes. If you suspect that you may have herpes, the best course of action is to speak with your medical provider. Your doctor can help you decide if testing is right for you. With the right treatment, you can easily manage this condition.
Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention