The herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is a very common sexually transmitted disease but most people don’t know they have it. It is one of two herpes viruses that can cause genital herpes, but genital herpes is most commonly caused by HSV-2. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 417 million people between 15 – 49 years of age have HSV-2. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 11.9% of Americans between 14 – 49 have HSV-2. This jumps to 12.1% when adjusted for age. This article explores and explains some HSV-2 transmission facts.
Basic information about the virus
Before exploring some HSV-2 transmission facts, it’s important to understand some basic information about the virus. HSV-2 is often asymptomatic. When a person is experiencing symptoms, this is called an outbreak. Those symptoms include burning when urinating, pain around genital areas, and blisters on genitals that turn into sores. While there is no cure for HSV-2, the virus can be managed with antivirals, which helps with the probability of transmission along with safe sex practices.
The first outbreak is usually the most severe. An outbreak can last 2 to 4 weeks. After the initial outbreak, recurring episodes are usually shorter and less painful. A person may also experience flu-like symptoms during the first outbreak. Symptoms may include fever, headache, chills, and swollen glands in the pelvic area and underarms.
The below outlines some ways HSV 2 is and is not transmitted.
7 HSV-2 Transmission Facts
Fact #1: It is spread by skin to skin contact
Some areas of the body have mucous membranes where mucous is secreted. These areas include the mouth, anus, and vagina. When a person with HSV-2 infected area(s) comes into contact with an uninfected person’s mucous membranes or an open area on the skin, HSV-2 can be transmitted.
Fact #2: HSV-2 is unlikely to be transmitted outside of the body
The HSV-2 virus has a very short life outside of the body. As a result, it is highly unlikely to get HSV-2 from using a towel of an infected person or using the same toilet as an infected person.
Fact #3: It can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth, although it’s rare
A mother who has an outbreak with visible herpes lesions during the birth of a baby can pass the virus on to the child through a vaginal delivery. There may be a recommendation for a cesarean section if lesions are present at the time of birth. Although very rare, it is also possible for a baby to contract HSV-2 while in the uterus.
A more likely way of transmitting HSV-2 from mother to child is if the mother contracted HSV-2 during her third trimester. The risk of a mother transmitting HSV-2 to her baby is greater in women who have their first or primary outbreak during pregnancy than a woman who had HSV-2 prior to pregnancy and experiences a recurrence during pregnancy.
Fact #4: HSV-2 can be transmitted through oral sex
As noted above, the mouth contains mucous membranes. Although it is rare to contract HSV-2 via oral sex, it is still possible. If a non-infected person’s mouth comes into contact with a person’s infected genital area, HSV-2 can be passed orally. Conversely, a person who has an oral HSV-2 can pass the infection to an uninfected person via oral sex.
Fact #5: It can be spread when no symptoms are apparent
Some may be under the impression that if symptoms are not present, HSV-2 cannot be spread. However, HSV-2 is a latent disease. It lies dormant for long periods of time but is still present in the body. While the risk of transmission is greatest during outbreaks, the disease can still be spread when a person does not have physical symptoms.
Fact #6: Transmission is a greater risk for those with compromised immune systems
Naturally, when the immune system, the body’s defense system, is compromised, there is a greater probability of contracting HSV-2. When a person has HIV, AIDS, lupus and other auto-immune diseases, HSV-2 is more of a risk. In addition, those undergoing chemotherapy also have a higher risk because their immune systems are weakened by their treatments.
Fact #7: HSV-2 is more easily transmitted to women
According to the CDC’s latest statistics, the rate of HSV-2 for Americans is almost twice as great for women than men between the ages of 14 – 49. The reason is just the natural way female and male bodies function and interact. Transmission is easier from a man to a woman.
HSV-2 is a common STD that can be transmitted in a number of ways. It is best to be educated on the causes to help with prevention or management of the virus.