People who are infected with herpes often don’t know it, so it’s difficult to prevent. However, wearing condoms can reduce the risk of transmission for genital herpes. Those who have herpes can take antiviral medications to reduce the frequency of outbreaks and the chance of transmission. Oral herpes is very contagious and difficult to prevent, but you can take steps to help reduce outbreaks. Both types of herpes can spread even when someone’s not experiencing symptoms.
Genital Herpes Prevention
To protect against genital herpes, wear a latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex. While wearing a condom reduces the risk of infection significantly, it does not provide 100% protection against the virus.
If you or your partner has genital herpes, taking a prescription antiviral medication, like valacyclovir, can reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of transmission as well as the frequency of outbreaks. Avoid having sex during an active outbreak to minimize the risk of spreading it to a partner.
Oral Herpes Prevention
Oral herpes (also known as cold sores) is extremely common. Most people become infected during their childhood or young adulthood through nonsexual contact. By age 20, most Americans are infected with the oral herpes virus.
Because oral herpes is so widespread, it’s incredibly difficult to prevent. Newborn babies up to 8 weeks old are especially at risk because their immune systems aren’t strong enough to fight the virus. Parents with oral herpes should avoid actions that might spread the virus to their baby, such as kissing, putting a pacifier in their own mouth, or letting the baby touch a cold sore on their mouth.
People with oral herpes can take antiviral medications to make outbreaks less frequent. It also helps to wear lip balm with SPF protection, because sun exposure can trigger outbreaks. During an outbreak, avoid kissing or sharing utensils, towels, and other personal items.