Sexual health

Herpes: The Kiss We Hope You Didn’t Get Under the Mistletoe

by Kinkly
Published: JANUARY 13, 2014 | Updated: JULY 13, 2020
While there is no cure for the HSV-1 infection that causes cold sores, there are antiviral medications that can help manage outbreaks and relieve symptoms.

The holidays are over, but we hope you managed to steal a few kisses under the mistletoe while you had the chance! Kissing someone you love can be one of the most enjoyable, intimate experiences. Plus, unlike oral, vaginal and anal sex, it is a very safe sexual activity.

Well ... almost safe. Not to kill the romance, but transmitting the herpes simplex virus (HSV) through open-mouth or closed-mouth kissing is a common occurrence. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), oral herpes (HSV-1) is so common in the United States that 50 to 80 percent of adults are infected with it. HSV-1 is so prevalent because it is such an easy virus to contract and transmit.


The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Herpes is a common and contagious infection caused by two closely related viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 infections typically appear in, on or around the mouth, which is why it’s commonly referred to as "oral herpes." HSV-2 infections can usually be found on the genitals, thus the name "genital herpes." But here's what you may not know: HSV-1 infections of the genitals, as a result of oral-genital contact, have become increasingly common. According to The New York Times, up to 50 percent of new genital herpes infections are the result of HSV-1 being transmitted via oral sex. Oral herpes can be passed between partners through direct exposure to saliva, as in kissing, or through oral, vaginal or anal sexual contact with an infected person. (Read more about HSV-2 in Honey, I Have Herpes.)

Don’t Kiss a Blister

While people can have oral herpes and be asymptomatic, meaning that they show no symptoms, HSV-1 is particularly contagious when sores or blisters are present. If your partner has a visible sore, don’t kiss or touch the affected area. Cold sores are highly infectious and can be passed on easily upon contact. These sores tend to appear between two and 12 days after exposure. The first outbreak, or appearance of sores, is signaled by burning, itching and tingling on the lips and mouth. When sores do occur, they last approximately seven to 10 days, causing mild to severe blistering of the mouth, tongue and lips. Initially, the blisters appear as painful red spots that then evolve after a few days into clear, yellowish, fluid-filled blisters. Finally, the blisters burst and leave ulcers that scab over and heal in about 10 days.

Symptoms of oral herpes can go away on their own after about two to three weeks, but this does not mean that the virus itself has left your system. If left untreated, the HSV-1 virus can cause subsequent outbreaks. These outbreaks can be triggered by a host of stimuli, including exposure to sunlight, fatigue, physical and emotional stress, and so on. A person with an untreated oral herpes case can expect to have about four or five outbreaks per year, resulting in sores that can last up to 14 days


Now for the good news: Oral herpes can be detected through testing. There are a few reputable online online STD testing that can test and confirm the presence of oral herpes in a couple of days. (Read more about STD testing in Scared of STD Tests? Here's Why You Shouldn't Be.)

Antiviral Medications Can Help

Once you contract HSV-1, cold sores cannot be avoided but they can be treated. Anti-viral medications like acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir can help control, treat and reduce the pain of an outbreak, but are best taken before an outbreak when you are experiencing early symptoms.

Remain Herpes Free

The best way to avoid contracting or transmitting oral herpes is to avoid sexual contact or, failing that, to be in a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with someone who has tested negative for HSV-1. Also, practicing safer sex through the use of condoms and dental dams during sex can reduce the risk of contracting oral herpes. Despite these measures, preventing a HSV-1 transmission can be difficult because it is such an easy virus to catch. If you're concerned that you may have contracted oral herpes, be sure to get tested today.


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