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just diagnoised with herpes

Oct 24, 2002

I have been in a monogomous relationship for the last 20 years. I've had what I thought were abrasions on my genitals once or twice a year. I don't remember when this first occured. A few months ago it dawned on me that I could have herpes. By chance, I had an "abrasion" during my last gynecological visit for a reoccuring yeast infection. To my surprise, it was confirmed that I do indeed have herpes. I am assured by my partner that yes, I have been in a monomgomous relationship. He has never had any symptoms that he was aware of. I have been told by my public health representative that after twenty years there is no doubt that my partner is also infected. My greatest fear is that this will negatively affect our sex life. Already, despite logic, my partner, because he has no symptoms, questions whether he has herpes. I'm willing to use condoms until he's tested for antibodies, which I'm told can be done through an expensive blood test. After he's assured himself that he has the virus, how will this change our sex life? Do we need to take any precautions so he doesn't start exhibiting symptoms? One last question, I know it doesn't matter now, but could he have given me the virus having never experienced any lesions? Thanks for your help. This has been an unsettling experience.

Response from Mr. Kull

Yes, it does sound like an unsettling experience, and one that might require more attention than the answers I can provide to you here. Consider calling the National Herpes Hotline at (919)361-8488 for more support and to find resources in your area for you and your partner to consult. Support groups exist and counselors can work with you and your partner to help sort out the emotional and sexual aspects of your relationship as you confront these issues.

I don't know if this will matter to you or not, but it's important that you recognize that you've done nothing wrong. Almost 90 percent of Americans are infected with HSV-1, mostly through non-sexual contact and approximately 45 million, or one out of five, Americans above 12 years of age are infected with HSV-2 (the type that typically causes genital herpes). Most people who have genital herpes infections are not aware that they have it. So you are definitely not alone in your struggle.

There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV) that are categorized as HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 generally causes what are commonly known as cold sores or fever blisters: those uncomfortable, sometimes painful bumps you get around your mouth that are like blisters that scab over. HSV-2 generally causes what is commonly known as genital herpes. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are attracted to the skin and mucous membranes around the mouth and the genital region. The virus doesn't particularly care if it lives in the neighborhood of the mouth or the genitals, as long as it has some place to hang out and cause problems. So, a person with a HSV-1 cold sore on their mouth could transmit HSV-1 to the penis or vagina of a person they are performing oral sex on, and the same goes for HSV-2 being transmitted from the genitals to the mouth. HSV-2 may have a more severe course than HSV-1. Being diagnosed with a primary episode of genital herpes is a strong predictor of having recurrent episodes during the first year, but the frequency and severity of episodes usually decreases over time.

A common response to a situation like yours is to try to figure out who infected whom. This can be a frustrating and destructive process. It's possible that your boyfriend had a herpes infection, was not aware of it, and transmitted it to you. It's also possible that your boyfriend has not been infected by you (even though, after multiple exposures, it is unlikely), or has been infected but doesn't manifest significant symptoms (less than 10% infected with HSV-2 will experience recurrent outbreaks). Antibody tests are not going to answer this, and neither are endless inquiries into the other person's responsibility or fidelity. The primary issue is treating the herpes outbreaks, and preventing skin or mucous membrane contact with active lesions. If your partner never has herpes outbreaks, him being infected with herpes is not a significant issue. He should, however, continue to avoid contact with active lesions. If you choose to have sex during an outbreak, use a condom, but it's best if you abstain until the lesions heal.

Remain in contact with an experienced medical professional regarding your infection. Talk with your doctor about taking medication on an as needed basis (around the times you start to feel an outbreak coming on), or on a continual basis as suppressive therapy. The latter is usually indicated for people who experience regular or frequent outbreaks.

Good luck in sorting this out. Continue talking about your feelings with your partner and call on the support and available resources to help you through this difficult time.


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