Can I Spread Herpes to My Family?

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There are two types of Herpes Simplex viruses, HSV–1 that causes oral herpes and HSV-2 which causes genital herpes, a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). While it is true that there is currently no cure for herpes, there are also many myths, misconceptions, and frequently asked questions (FAQs) about herpes transmission. A question that keeps popping up is, “Can I spread herpes to my family?”.

Here, you’ll to get answers to common questions on herpes transmission in the family and herpes precautions you can take to avoid spreading the disease.

Can I Spread Herpes to My Family?
Photo credit: Anna Pruzhevskaya

What is Herpes?

Herpes is a highly contagious viral infection that causes oral and genital herpes. The body cannot get rid of it once the infection occurs. The initial outbreak is usually the worst leading to itchy, painful cold sores or fever blisters at the site where the virus entered the body. Other symptoms are fever, headaches, chills, and swollen glands. The sores usually dry and scab on their own and disappear within days. But it doesn’t mean that the virus is gone.

Who Can Get Herpes?

Anyone can get infected with herpes including your family members. This is because it could take mere skin-to-skin contact with an infected body part to contract the infection. In fact, most people who contracted the disease don’t even know they have it and can share it without knowing it.

Can I spread herpes to my family when I don’t have sores?

Yes. The virus is actually rather sneaky as it can hide in the nerve cells and remain there for years without causing an outbreak. In other cases, it may be more active or cause multiple breakouts a year. Unlike what some people think, the virus can also transmit even when there is no herpes sores, fever blisters, or other symptoms present. All it takes is contact with infected skin, saliva, mucous membranes, or other fluids.

Can I pass herpes to my child by kissing?

Yes. Many people think that it’s impossible to pass oral herpes to their child from kissing because it does not involve the exchange of saliva as is the case between French kissing adults. However, most people got oral herpes as a child by simply getting a non-sexual kiss or peck on the lips by an infected family member, relative, or friend. Furthermore, the herpes simplex virus is highly contagious and cold sores or blisters are not always present when the virus reactivates. This means you can still give the virus to your child or anyone else from skin-to-skin contact with the lips or mouth.

Can I spread herpes to my family from indirect contact?

Some people fear they’ll catch herpes from toilet seats, bath towels, eating utensils, or even a swimming pool used by someone who has HSV 1 or 2. The herpes virus is not typically passed from indirect contact, except when the virus is still alive outside the body. For instance, sharing your lip balm with your spouse or child can spread this viral infection. However, the virus dies quickly outside of the body making it nearly impossible to transmit this way. It is also not usual for you to get or give herpes from non-sexual acts such as hugging or holding family members.

Can I give genital herpes to my child?

Yes, even though genital herpes is usually transmitted through direct sexual contact with the vagina, anus, buttock, thighs, penis, or scrotum of an infected person. Although rare, you can spread genital herpes to your child during pregnancy or delivery or if you touch an infected area of your genitals and then touch your child’s genitals, e.g., when doing a diaper change, before washing your hands.

Can I give my family oral herpes from genital herpes?

The herpes virus can also transmit from the genitals to the mouth and cause oral herpes. For example, if you touch your genitals and then touch your child’s or another family member’s mouth with a hand that has the live virus. This is called genital HSV-1 transmission. You can also spread it to other parts of your or their body the same way, e.g., touching the eyes.

Herpes Precautions to Prevent Transmission

Taking the following herpes precautions may help keep your family members safe from both herpes 1 and 2:

  • Avoid touching herpes sores, infected skin, saliva, or mucous membranes, e.g., the mouth.
  • Do not share unwashed eating/drinking utensils with family members.
  • Always wash your hands before touching or caring for family members.
  • Don’t kiss or peck anyone, especially babies, infants, children, or other family members.
  • Take your herpes medication as prescribed to lower the chance of spreading herpes.
  • Do not share your razor, lipstick, or lip balm with others.

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