How to Avoid Contracting Herpes

May 7th 2016

Prevention of herpes is possible if you take precautions when you're with someone who does have the disease. Because herpes is so often asymptomatic, however, just looking for signs of the disease isn't enough to guarantee safety.

Use a Condom During Sex

Using a latex condom during sex with an infected person is the single best way to avoid contracting herpes. Protection is not 100 percent guaranteed, however. Using a spermicide during sex has no effect on the transmission of herpes.

Have an Infected Sexual Partner Take Acyclovir

Acyclovir is an antiviral medication often prescribed to treat herpes. Studies show that if a sexual partner is on acyclovir, his chances of viral shedding are reduced by as much as 80 percent. This greatly reduces the chances of an infected person passing on the virus to an uninfected person. The medication must be taken regularly; popping a pill right before having sex provides no extra protection whatsoever. The combination of acyclovir use with use of a latex condom during sex increases the protection even more.

Discuss Your Sexual Histories

Some people are ashamed to admit they have herpes, so they practice unprotected sex to spare themselves the embarrassment of the confession, even though doing so puts their sexual partners at great risk. Make sure to discuss sexual history before having sex with someone, even though it may seem awkward. Be aware that someone who has had many sexual partners or who has a history of other sexually transmitted diseases stands a much greater chance of being a herpes carrier.

Avoid Touching Lesions

Although herpes can be asymptomatic, the appearance of herpes lesions on a person's skin, mouth or genitals is a clear sign of infection. Avoid touching these lesions without wearing latex gloves, and don't touch the skin, saliva or mucous membranes of anyone who's infected.

Look at Your Sexual Partner's Genitals and Mouth

If you see sores on or in someone's mouth, don't kiss them. While the sores might just be cold sores that aren't related to herpes, the danger of infection is too great to take the risk. In the same way, if your sexual partner has open sores on his genitals, don't engage in sexual activities, including oral sex.


Herpes, a disease caused by the herpes simplex virus, is highly contagious. It most often manifests in and around the mouth or the genitals. The virus is easily transmitted, in part because most people infected with herpes show no symptoms, and therefore may not be aware that they have the disease. The virus travels to nerve tissue in the spine, where it can lie dormant for many years before an outbreak occurs. Because recurring herpes can be painful, it's important to try to avoid catching the virus in the first place. Fortunately, even if you're exposed to it, there are steps you can take to avoid contracting herpes.

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