How Is Herpes Spread?
Herpes is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact. For example, if you have a cold sore and kiss someone, the virus can be transferred and the person you kiss will get HSV. If you have active genital herpes and have vaginal or anal intercourse, the virus can be transmitted to your partner. And, if you have a cold sore and put your mouth on a partner's genitals (oral sex), the partner can acquire genital herpes.

Ways to Lower the Risk of Transmission

  • Tell Your Partner. It is important to understand herpes, the basics of herpes prevention and make decisions together about which precautions are best. There are social and emotional impacts of herpes, too.
  • Abstain From Sex. When signs and symptoms are present, take care about putting an uninfected partner at risk.
  • Use Latex Condoms Between Outbreaks. Condoms offer useful protection against unrecognized herpes by protecting or covering the mucous membranes that are the most likely sites of infection.

    Condoms do not provide 100 percent protection because a lesion may be found where the condom doesn't cover. But, used consistently, they are the best available form of prevention.

  • Microbicides and Spermicides. Spermicides used in contraceptive foams, film and gels kill or neutralize HSV in lab tests. More studies are underway. These may provide some protection when used in the vagina at the recommended dose for contraception. Use spermicides with condoms--not in place of them.