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Genital Herpes Transmission: How do you get genital herpes?

Herpes is transmitted by direct skin to skin contact but you may be wondering: how do you get genital herpes?

Unlike a flu virus that you can contract through the air, herpes spreads directly from the site of infection to the site of contact. If you have active genital herpes and have vaginal or anal intercourse, you can give your partner genital herpes. Plus if you have a cold sore and put your mouth on your partners genitals (oral sex), you can give your partner genital herpes.

Although genital herpes transmission is most likely when a genital herpes sore is present, it can often be spread at other times too. A tingling, itching or other sensation in the genitalia area will announce the imminent arrival of a genital herpes outbreak. Herpes is most likely to spread from the first time such early symptoms are noticed right up until the whole area is completely healed and the skin looks normal again, making sexual skin-to- skin contact at this time highly risky.

Unfortunately, genital herpes can be spread between outbreaks too, even when no signs or symptoms are present. This is called "Asymptomatic Transmission."

Also many people do not know they are infected. They may have the virus without the symptoms at all. They may have the virus with symptoms so mild that they do not notice them. Or they may have the symptoms but do not recognize or realize that they have herpes.

For those who recognize their symptoms, asymptomatic transmission appears to be less likely than spreading the virus when lesions are present. Many couples have had sexual relations for years without transmitting herpes while some avoid having sexual contact when signs or symptoms are present. Many use use condoms or other protection between outbreaks to help protect against asymptomatic shedding. This can still be risky because the herpes virus tends to hide away in the surface skin cells and it may be that these areas cannot be covered by condoms.

While the two types of herpes virus - HSV-1 and HSV-2 - can be found in and released from the sores that the viruses cause, they can also be released between outbreaks from skin that does not appear to have a sore and this is when it is difficult to practise safe sex. Genital ulcer diseases can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes.

Transmission of genital herpes from an infected male to his female partner is more likely than from an infected female to her male partner.

So the safest way to avoid the transmission of genital herpes is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.