Herpes: many hear the word and cringe. The incurable sexually transmitted disease (STD), commonly associated with painful sores and blisters, surely gets a bad wrap, but for those living with herpes, the more painful burden to bear is the stigma associated with the disease. The average American is incredibly misinformed about herpes, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Also Read - Chhatriwaali: Rakul Preet Singh Becomes a 'Condom Tester' in Her Next Film, Deets Inside
Here are seven of the most common herpes myths, busted. Also Read - Condom Use Significantly Increased in Mumbai, National Family Health Survey Finds
1) Herpes is rare.
One of the most common misconceptions about herpes is that it is rare. The reality is that herpes is incredibly common, with anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of all Americans carrying at least one strand of the virus. There are two types of herpes strands—Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1), which is most commonly responsible for cold sores, and Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2), which is most commonly responsible for genital outbreaks. There are, however, rare instances in which HSV-1 can be contracted genitally, and HSV-2 can be contracted orally. Also Read - Herpes Infection May Impair Your Brain Development
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every six people between the ages of 14 and 49, have genital herpes — and this is a lower estimate. Other sources estimate that one in five people are living with HSV-2. The STD is more common among women, with approximately one in four women infected (25 percent), versus approximately one in six men (16.7 percent). Still think herpes is rare? Think again.
2) I’ve been recently tested and came back clean, so I do not have herpes.
Unfortunately, because it is so common, the majority of STD tests do not screen for herpes. Most infections are visually diagnosed, and even then, physicians are right only 80 percent of the time. Interestingly enough, the CDC does not currently recommend routine type 2 HSV testing in someone with no symptoms suggestive of herpes infection, citing a lack of evidence that testing for the STD would curb the infection rate. Similarly, it is not clear whether knowledge of a herpes diagnosis improves the health of people taking the tests, as stress has been known to be a trigger for outbreaks.
Approximately 85 to 90 percent of those infected with HSV-2 exhibit little to no symptoms, which is why as many as 90 percent of those infected with the virus have no clue they are carrying it, according to the American Sexual Health Association. If you wish to know whether or not you are one of many unaware of your herpes status, you will need to specifically request to be screened for it, but note that the blood tests used to determine your HSV status are frequently inaccurate and a subject of debate among physicians.
3) If I use a condom, I won’t get herpes.
While condoms can significantly reduce the chances of becoming infected with the virus, the only foolproof way to prevent an HSV-2 transmission is to practice abstinence. According to JustHerpes.com, there is only a four to 10 percent chance that those infected will transmit herpes during an asymptomatic period—even without a condom. With a condom, the chances plunge to about one or two percent.
During an active outbreak, however, the chances of transmitting herpes during unprotected sex may be as high as 75 percent. Using a condom will significantly reduce those chances (to about eight percent), but because herpes is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, and condoms leave parts of the genital region exposed, it is still possible to contract the virus while using a condom.
4) Women with herpes cannot have a natural birth.
One of the most frequently asked questions among recently diagnosed women pertains to pregnancy. Luckily, the majority of women who become pregnant and have herpes go on to deliver healthy babies. So long as the mother carrying the virus is not experiencing an outbreak during the time of a vaginal delivery, it is extremely unlikely that she will pass herpes along to her newborn.
Although there is little risk of transmitting the disease to a newborn during an asymptomatic period, it is still important to let your physician know about your STD status, so that he or she can monitor symptoms closely. If at the time of labor you are experiencing an outbreak, a physician will likely recommend a cesarean section (c-section).
5) Only promiscuous men and women get herpes.
Although having sex with multiple partners will increase your chances to exposure, any sexually active person can contract herpes. As with all sexually transmitted diseases, herpes can be transmitted from just one sexual encounter. One of the most common misconceptions about herpes is that it only affects men and women who have many partners, but that is just simply not true. In fact, there are even a few reported instances of virgins contracting the disease orally.
Although it is much more difficult to contract HSV-1 genitally, it is not impossible. This is especially true if the person administering oral sex is suffering from a cold sore. Moral of the story? Nobody ever wishes for herpes, but a diagnosis is not contingent on your sexual history, so withhold your judgment!
6) A herpes diagnosis means you can kiss your love life goodbye.
Most people who are aware and open about their status will tell you that dating with herpes is hard. While it is probably true that disclosing your STD status will deter a few partners, a herpes diagnosis is not the end-all be-all of your love life. Many infected individuals have fulfilling sex lives, and oftentimes, with individuals who do not have herpes.
Honesty is always the best policy, but because there is such a stigma associated with herpes, many of those living with the disease are afraid to disclose their status. This is why it is incredibly important that we all do our due diligence and educate ourselves. As previously mentioned, there is only a four to 10 percent chance that those infected with the virus will transmit herpes during an asymptomatic period—and that is without a condom. With a condom, the chances plunge to about one or two percent.
Furthermore, safe sex practices, in combination with the daily use of drugs like Valtrex (suppressive therapy) during an asymptomatic period slices your chances of contraction to less than one percent. You have a greater chance of becoming a millionaire (1 in 106). Just because your partner has herpes doesn’t mean that you will eventually get herpes, too. Again, there is no foolproof way to avoid risk of contraction other than abstinence, but there are ways to significantly reduce your chances.
7) Herpes is something to be ashamed of.
As if living with herpes wasn’t crappy enough, many of those who have become knowingly infected are ashamed of their status—some even battle suicidal thoughts. Subtle jabs in mainstream media and Hollywood movies (i.e. The Hangover) aren’t helping the herpes cause, either.
The fact is that herpes is one of the most common STDs and living with the disease is nothing to be ashamed of. Britney Spears, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, Paris Hilton, Derek Jeter and Kim Kardashian are just some of celebrities rumored to be living with herpes, but none have gone on record to confirm the claims. In the grand scheme of things, herpes, though potentially uncomfortable, is merely a skin condition and it’s time we acknowledge the stigma, so that we can get the conversation going once and for all.