Herpes 1 + 2 guide

Herpes risk factors

How do people get infected with herpes?

Anyone can get herpes...usually through direct contact with active sores during sexual activity, including kissing or skin-to-skin contact with a person who has sores on the mouth or genital area. The most common risk factors are:

  • A history of STDs
  • A history of unprotected sex
  • A new sexual partner
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Gay and bisexual men
  • Being HIV-positive
  • Early age for first sexual activity

Due to reporting disparities and a number of other variables, there is a higher prevalence of herpes among sexually active women and African-Americans...for example, women are more likely to get screened, and some ethnic/minority groups are more likely to use public clinics that report STD cases. As well, awareness of STDs and how to prevent them, and access to regular healthcare are inconsistent among populations that are disadvantaged by poverty and other social determinants...these groups may therefore be more likely to engage in risky sexual activity.

If you have herpes, it's best to avoid sex during an active outbreak. And remember, herpes can also be transmitted when no symptoms are present...this is called "viral shedding." Also be aware that oral herpes can be spread to the genitals through oral sex.

What are some ways that herpes cannot be spread?

You cannot get herpes through contact with toilet seats, bath tubs, hot tubs, swimming pools, towels, or the like.

Want to learn more?

Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."

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