The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is one of the most common viruses in the world, and is carried by nearly 2 billion people worldwide. HSV infection is a sexually-transmitted infection, although it’s important to know that you don’t necessarily have to have had intercourse with an infected person to pick up the virus. HSV can be spread via simple skin to skin contact, and is especially easy to spread if one partner has an active outbreak.
An HSV infection causes clusters of painful blisters and sores on the genitals that look and feel much like a cold sores. HSV is a chronic infection that is with you for life. However grim this outlook may seem, all is not lost. There are steps you can take to prevent the spread of HSV, ensuring that you and your partner stay healthy well into the future.
Use condoms every time you have sex
While there is no sure-fire way to be 100% certain that you will not contract an HSV infection, using a condom every time you have sex (including oral and anal sex) can drastically reduce your risk of contracting the virus. This is true even when there are no signs of infection present. There is still a 10% chance you could contract HSV from a non-symptomatic partner who is infected with HSV, so diligence is a must.
Do not engage in intimate contact if you have an active infection
Sometimes the initial or “prodromal” stage of the HSV infection goes unnoticed. Generally, the prodromal phase starts out with some tingling, and if untreated quickly progresses to inflammation and the formation of weeping blisters and sores. During this time, the infection is highly contagious, and therefore any intimate contact, even without intercourse, is not advised. If you do happen to touch an area of infection, avoid touching anything and wash your hands immediately with soap and water.
It is also important to know that if you suffer from cold sores but have never had an outbreak of genital herpes, you should not engage in oral sex if you have a cold sore. Cold sores are caused by one of the two types of herpes virus that causes genital herpes, and therefore engaging in oral sex while you have a cold sore can spread the virus to your partner, infecting him or her with genital herpes.
Boost your immunity; look after your fitness and nutrition
If you are already infected with HSV (and even if you’re not), having a strong, healthy immune system can be the difference between being able to fight-off a flare-up or not. Simple measures like quitting smoking, limiting your alcohol intake, getting plenty of exercise, and not starving yourself of sleep are extremely important. You should also look after your immune system by focusing on nutrition. Eating a wide representation of healthy, colorful foods (like veggies and grains), as well as L-lysine-rich foods like beans, lentils, nuts, and eggs is an excellent way to accomplish this. L-lysine has been proven to be beneficial in keeping outbreaks at bay, as well as lessening the severity of outbreaks that occur.
4. Whitley, R.J., Roizman, B. Herpes simplex virus infections. The Lancet; 357 (9267)