Genital herpes transmission always comes as the result of physical contact with an infected person. This usually occurs during sexual activities, since the delicate mucus membranes around the genitals are most vulnerable to herpes infection. It can also be spread through oral sex or kissing, since one form of the virus is found in the mouth and may cause cold sores. On occasion, although extremely rare, herpes may be spread through sitting on toilet seats with infected fluid on them.
The most common genital herpes transmission method is through sexual intercourse, either vaginal or anal. Transmission is most common when the infected partner is having an outbreak, but the virus can be spread at any time. Many people with herpes do not know they have it, so spreading it to a partner is generally by accident. This can be prevented by using protective barriers, such as latex condoms, during sex every time. Testing is also a good idea for both partners, unless they have not been sexually active with any other person.
Oral sex can also lead to the transmission of genital herpes, because herpes from the mouth can be spread to the genital regions and vice versa. This is a less common way to pass the virus along, and it too generally happens during an outbreak. Condoms are the best preventative method for oral to genital herpes transmission.
Very rarely, other methods of genital herpes transmission may take place. For instance, touching the genitals of sexual partner and then touching one’s own body can spread the virus, even without intercourse. To prevent this, it is important to wash one’s hands after touching another person, including diaper changes and sexual contact. In public restrooms, seat covers or sanitizer may offer some protection.
The spreading of herpes is less likely when there are no lesions present, but this is not always the case. There are some prescription medications which lessen the number of outbreaks and may prevent the spreading of herpes, but barrier methods such as latex condoms are still recommended. Those who know they have herpes should be up front with partners to allow them to make informed decisions about their sexual health.
In some cases, herpes can be spread from a mother to her child during the birth process. This is rare in mothers who have no herpes-related sores at the time of delivery, but can be very serious or fatal if the virus is spread to the newborn. Women who have a current outbreak may be advised to have a Cesarean section to prevent spreading the disease. Those with no visible symptoms may be allowed to give birth vaginally, and the baby will be closely monitored for many days after birth for signs of an infection.