Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on November 11, 2011

How can I catch herpes?

I’m just a little confused about STDs...how can I catch herpes?

answered by
Lisa Oldson, MD on November 11, 2011

This is a great question. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 1 in 6 people have herpes in the United States so knowing how herpes is transmitted can help keep you protected.

Genital herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV). Unlike some STDs that are passed in bodily fluids, herpes is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. That means you can get genital herpes when your genitals touch the genitals of another person who’s infected.

Unfortunately you may not always know if a person you have sexual activity with has herpes. Why? Herpes infections don’t always cause visible signs of infection so your partner may not even be aware that he/she has herpes. In fact it’s quite common for herpes infections to be asymptomatic (no symptoms).

How can you tell if someone has herpes? The only way to know for sure is to get tested. If signs of infection (herpes sores) are present, visit a doctor for a swab test of the sores. Or if signs are not present, you can take the Herpes Simplex Virus Type-Specific HSV-1/2 IgG blood test.

This is the test recommended by the CDC to test for herpes if signs or symptoms aren’t present. It works by looking for antibodies to herpes if you’re infected. This test can also determine what type of herpes infection (HSV-1 or HSV-2) you have which can help with treatment.

You can learn more about herpes transmission in our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2. And if you’re interested in getting tested for herpes, you can learn more about herpes testing in our STD testing guide.

Thanks for your question and I wish you great health.

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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