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Ask Dr. K

I recently tested positive for herpes. I don't know from whom or when I got it. I'm Mr. Extra Careful and only practice safe sex. I read the website and the skin-to-skin transmission information seems so vague. How is the virus actually transmitted? I haven't had sex since because I'm too embarrassed to tell someone I have it.

Great herpes question. Herpes simplex virus is the genital herpes virus. It infects the skin and travels down the nerves to the base of the spinal cord where it stays for life. From time to time, the virus will travel from the spine back to the genital skin and either cause blisters and sores or just be on the skin without any symptoms. While the virus is on the skin it can be spread to a partner through close skin-to-skin contact.

Condoms work very well and do protect against the spread of herpes. But since the condom doesn't cover the entire genital area, herpes infections can sometimes be transmitted from person to person even when using a condom. It's good that you realize you don't know from whom you got herpes and when -- most people donít and really cannot know. One in five people in the U.S. has been infected with the herpes virus and 90% of those people have no idea they have it.

Herpes is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a normal consequence of sex. If you would like to talk to someone more specifically about transmission, you can call the National Herpes Hotline at 1-919-361-8488. And for more information about talking to your future partners about herpes, click here.

To your health,
Dr. K

Last modified on Thursday, November 19, 2009.
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