Herpes: Medications Help, but Aren't 100% Protective

5 years ago

Brittany and Tom sat in my office holding hands. They looked a little worried and yet were interested in finding out more information about how to prevent Tom from passing Herpes on to Brittany. They were both in their late 20's and been together for about 6 months and so far, so good, she had not become infected, which was reassuring, but they wanted to do everything they could to prevent a future transmission.

Tom had been diagnosed in college and took medication daily to prevent outbreaks.  Still, when he was stressed or was traveling he'd inevitably have an outbreak, which thankfully had decreased from 6-8 times/year to once every 6 months.  Whenever an outbreak occurred, he would abstain from sex. 

Brittany was worried, because even though Tom said that he couldn't pass the virus on to her unless he had an outbreak, she had read conflicting information on-line. Brittany read that the virus could still be transmitted even without symptoms and wanted to get more information.

We know that between 20-25% of adults around the world are infected with Herpes Type 2, also known as genital herpes. We also know that a significant number of people are completely, maybe blissfuly unaware that they carry the virus and could possibly transmit it to a partner. Up to 80% of people do not know that they carry the Herpes virus. Many people are also surprised that they can transmit the virus without symptoms and infect their partner.

Brittany and Tom were disappointed to know that the virus could still be transmitted without symptoms. Tom was reassured that taking his daily anti-viral did go a long way in reducing the risk of transmission and in reducing outbreaks. They nodded when we discussed that by using condoms, avoiding sex during an outbreak and taking an anti-viral such as acyclovir or valacyclovir they were doing everything they could to prevent transmission.  Unfortunately, we don't have a 100% iron-clad guarantee of prevention, but we can help reduce the risks significantly. 

Here's a breakdown of what we know:

  • 20-25% of people are infected with Genital Herpes (Herpes Type 2)
  • 80% of people don't know they have the virus
  • Taking daily anti-virals, such as Valacyclovir 500-1000 mg was shown in a study to reduce  transmission by 75%
  • Using condoms further reduces the risk of transmission
  • Avoiding sex during outbreaks is also important for reducing risk.

My friend, Terri Warren of the Westover Heights clinic in Portland Oregon is WebMD's Herpes expert.

For more information.

Follow me on Twitter@NurseBarbDehn.
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