I have genital herpes...will I be able to have a family some day?
I’m infected with genital herpes. I used acyclovir to prevent the outbreaks. I know this virus is inside of me and I thought my immune system should fight against it. So I stopped using drugs...and now when the blisters appear, they don't spread on my skin anymore and they heal faster than before. I am a 29-year-old male and I am planning to marry someday and have kids, but I don't want to infect anyone. I am really depressed and feeling like I ruined my whole life. What are my options?
Lisa Oldson, MD on September 14, 2011
I am truly sorry that you feel depressed about your circumstances, but take heart. First, you’re not alone…herpes is quite common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six people has herpes.
Also, remember that herpes is not life-threatening in adults and it’s quite manageable in day-to-day life through medication and practicing safer sex. You bring up a great point about the immune system fighting the herpes virus. Your lesions are healing faster and not spreading because your immune system is fighting the virus. Over time, you will probably experience fewer outbreaks and shorter ones, too.
Don’t be afraid to continue taking acyclovir…it won’t harm your body, and it will keep your herpes outbreaks in check. In fact, over time, antiviral therapy will help prevent or at least shorten the duration of your outbreaks, which also reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to potential sexual partners.
And if you end up in a relationship and even marrying someone who’s not infected with herpes, there are certainly other precautions you can take to avoid spreading the virus. In particular, using latex condoms or dental dams will minimize the risk of transmitting your infection.
Even if a future partner catches the virus from you, she won’t necessarily experience herpes symptoms or outbreaks. Keeping in mind that because one out of every six Americans has herpes (and only 10% are aware of it), there is a possibility that your next partner will already have the virus. Testing both partners prior to sexual activity is the best way to determine each partner’s STD status and the necessary precautions you should take to keep each other safe.
That said, there’s a chance that an infected mother can transmit herpes to her baby. Mothers who are herpes carriers can infect their baby during vaginal birth if the mother shedding virus from the genital tract. But there are ways around this…infected mothers are sometimes advised by their doctors to take antiviral medications from 34-36 weeks of pregnancy to help avoid an outbreak and reduce viral shedding. Also, Cesarean sections are performed on women if an outbreak occurs near delivery.
It’s important for women to avoid contracting a new herpes infection during the last trimester of pregnancy...so a woman’s obstetrician may provide specific advice on this if she is negative and her partner is positive.
Remember, you’ve not ruined your life by any means. There’s no reason why you can’t have a sexually fulfilling relationship, get married and raise a family. Your condition is very manageable.
Thank you for your important questions and I wish you a healthy, happy future. To learn more, look into our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2.
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.