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Can You Get Herpes From Kissing?

When it comes to the topic of STD transmission, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Remember that, for the most part, sexually transmitted diseases are, hence the name, transmitted sexually. Unlike airborne viruses, you won’t be catching gonorrhea or chlamydia from a crowded elevator or a sneezing Uber driver. But herpes and herpes symptoms aren’t like those of other STDs. Granted, you’re not putting yourself at any serious risk by simply going out in public. But what about something as innocent as kissing a relative or significant other? That’s a different story entirely. So, can you get herpes from kissing? Before we go too far down that road, let’s take a minute to go over some of the ways herpes is not passed (despite what you might read on a handful of unreliable Internet sources).

We’ve certainly heard our fair share of herpes transmission horror stories involving shared drinks, doorknobs, toilet seats, swimming pools, elevator buttons, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. And the vast majority of these tales are nothing more than STD myths and urban legends.

But back to the notion that you can contract herpes from kissing. Unfortunately, this is one claim you can believe. Yes, you most certainly can contract herpes from kissing. Before you go ahead and kiss your crush or partner, it’s important to be aware of the risks involved. With something as personal as a kiss, a mixture of factors including your comfort and level of trust should be considered.

Oral Herpes Transmission

The herpes virus, whether it be HSV-1 (the strain most commonly associated with cold sores or oral herpes) or HSV-2 (the strain most commonly associated with genital herpes), is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact with an open sore. So kissing someone during an active outbreak, or being kissed by someone during this time, is certainly a risky practice unlike, say, shaking their hand or hugging. Even an innocent peck on the cheek or forehead from dear Aunt Edna can be enough to transmit the herpes virus. But how much of a risk is it?

HSV-1 is extremely common with an estimated 67% of the world’s population under the age of 50 is potentially infected according to the World Health Organization. While HSV-1 usually causes cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth, it can also cause genital herpes, especially if a person with HSV-1 performs oral sex on another person.

HSV-2 is still considered the major culprit in terms of causing genital herpes infections. Around 12% of Americans under the age of 50 have HSV-2, according to the CDC.

Whether or not a person has HSV-1 or HSV-2, both can be transmitted sexually. Many people transfer this virus unknowingly since it often does not show symptoms. Herpes also has the unique capability of spreading through seemingly uninfected areas such as around the mouth and genitals by “shedding” infected skin cells. The risk is also considerably high if the individual has open cold sores. Hence, while we do not have strict statistics on how likely it is to contract herpes from kissing, there is certainly a possibility. But, there are medications and methods available to make herpes a more manageable disease.

Herpes and Relationships

So what does this mean for relationships? Since more than half of the world’s population has HSV-1, does this mean the end for kissing? Of course not. But you probably shouldn’t go around kissing random people on the street either. Intimacy of any sort can involve some risks, so it is important to be open and honest with your partner(s). There are a variety of methods in which individuals living with herpes can decrease their likelihood of accidentally spreading the disease.

While herpes is significantly contagious, medical research has found ways to decrease transmission and symptom severity. However, a cure has yet to be discovered.

Antivirals such as Valtrex and Famvir can be taken to mediate the frequency and acuteness of outbreaks. If you tested positive for herpes, you and your healthcare provider would decide whether your case requires episodic or a more suppressive treatment plan. These medications can also help to suppress the virus and decrease the possibility of spreading it to your partner(s).

If you or your partner happen to experience an outbreak of herpes sores around the mouth, anus, rectum or genitals, it is best to avoid skin-to-skin contact until after the outbreak has subsided. Herpes sores are highly contagious and can be spread or passed easily. You can even spread an existing herpes virus to other areas of the body by spreading infected cells from one area to another. During intercourse, dental dams and condoms may provide some protection, but will not cover all contagious areas of skin, and so cannot be considered risk-free. The use of antiviral medications should help avoid outbreaks and shedding which would put either you or your partner at risk.

And keep in mind, even as transmissible as this virus is, it can only survive for a few seconds outside of a human host. So all those stories you hear about catching it from shared surfaces (drinks, toilet seats, swimming pools, etc.) are likely exaggerated if not flat out false. While sharing drinks, utensils, or toothbrushes with a significant other might not be the most hygienic of practices, your risk of contracting herpes in this fashion is virtually non-existent.

While herpes is significantly contagious, medical research has found ways to decrease transmission and symptom severity. However, a cure has yet to be discovered.
Antivirals such as Valtrex and Famvir can be taken to mediate the frequency and acuteness of outbreaks. If you tested positive for herpes, you and health care provider would decide whether your case requires episodic or a more suppressive treatment plan. These medications can also help to suppress the virus and decrease the possibility of spreading it to your partner(s).

If you or your partner happen to experience an outbreak of herpes sores around the mouth, anus, rectum or genitals, it is best to avoid skin-to-skin contact. Herpes sores are highly contagious. You can even spread an existing herpes virus to other areas of the body by spreading infected cells from one area to another. During intercourse, dental dams and condoms may provide some protection, but will not cover all contagious areas of skin, and so cannot be considered risk-free. The use of antiviral medications should help avoid outbreaks and shedding which would put either you or your partner at risk.

Kissing With Herpes

In the end, if you or your partner(s) test positive for HSV-1 or HSV-2, the decision is up to you. While herpes is rather contagious, it is not deadly, fairly common and there are medications available to suppress it.

Due to these amazing feats of science, people living with the herpes simplex virus can lead normal lives and kiss others without too much concern. Unfortunately, social stigma around having the disease gives many the impression that herpes is socially debilitating; however, it doesn’t have to be. The key to this is making your partner(s) aware and doing what you can to treat the disease.

If you or your partner should be concerned about contracting herpes, it is important to take a herpes test as soon as possible. It is recommended that sexually active individuals receive STD testing at least every year to keep. This will help you prepare for any necessary treatment and precautions in future intimate endeavors.

Concerns about your sexual health are completely understandable. In the event that you or your partner should become worried–or even just for a routine check–Priority STD offers discrete and professional STD testing services. Simply order the test(s) you need and stop by one of our 4,000+ testing centers at your convenience. Results are typically made available in just 24-72 hours.