[Question #6792] Can I infect my partner?

11 months ago
I’m a 29 year old female who was very recently diagnosed with genital HSV1. My partner is a 33 year old male. My partner’s mother, an aunt, and other people in his family have had cold sores although he has never knowingly experienced any symptoms (and had no idea that standard tests do not test for herpes and that oral HSV1 can be transmitted to a partner’s genitals through oral sex even without symptoms). I imagine that he got oral HSV1 during childhood (but, of course, he will have the test done to be sure of his HSV1 status as soon as possible). 

My partner and I are in a long-term relationship and are open to the idea of having children, and so we sometimes make informed choices not to use condoms. 

So, let’s say, I have genital HSV1 and my partner also tests positive for HSV1. Is there any sexual activity that we can engage in without protection and without risking transmission? 

I’ve heard that if both partners have HSV1, then they are not able to transmit it back and forth to one another. I’ve also heard that once my initial genital infection is healed, I will not be able to transmit the virus to myself, give myself oral HSV1 for example. Is there any truth to either of these statements? 
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
11 months ago
Once both of you are infected with the same type of virus (HSV 1, in your case) it is extremely unlikely that either of you will get this is a new location on your body.  it is also true that once you have a well-established infection, you are extremely unlikely to get it in a new location on your body. So do you know if you have a new infection or is it just a newly diagnosed infection?  What was your first outbreak like?  And I am assuming you were diagnosed via a swab test from a lesion? 

In terms of your partner being tested - he could do that, but if you were together when you got a brand new infection, then you almost certainly got it from him, right?  Or could this be a recurrence?  The IgG antibody test for HSV 1 misses about 30% of HSV 1 infections, compared to the gold standard western blot for herpes, so testing for him may or may not be accurate, if negative.

If I were in your situation, and he thinks it is very likely that he has oral HSV 1, I wouldn't give this any further worry and I would engage in whatever sexual activity I wanted to participate in, and not worry about this.  I think your situation is much better than you might think.  Also, HSV 1 will recur far less than HSV 2 in the genital area so you may never have another outbreak - you'll have to wait and see. 

Please let me know what other questions you might have, OK?

Terri
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11 months ago
I had my first ever outbreak start last weekend... as far as I know it was my first, and yes, I was diagnosed with a swab test from a lesion. The first outbreak has been incredibly painful with several lesions but seemed to improve some with the Valtrex. My Valtrex doses ended yesterday, and now, although I’m still in pain, the pain feels more manageable. I’ve been paranoid about spreading this to myself, so I’ve been washing my hands like crazy. You mentioned a “well-established” infection... can you say more about what that means and the amount of time that might take for it to become well-established? 

I’m also wondering about “laundry hygiene”. Can underwear and things I’ve worn or towels used during an outbreak be washed? Is it better to discard them? Is there any special way I should clean them? Hot water? Or washed separately from other clothing? 

Thank you for your response. This feels very helpful! 
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
Terri Warren, RN, Nurse Practitioner
11 months ago
Yes, a new infection can take a few months to become well established.  That means that your immune system has been able to recognize the virus and make the proper kinds of cells to fight the virus.  Simple hand washing after using the restroom or having sex can prevent you from getting this in a new location on your body. 
Most definitely do not discard our underwear!  Just wash them exactly as you normally would.  The function of soap is to destroy lipids and this virus has a lipid layer around it that holds it together.  Once you introduce soap, that layer is destroyed and the virus falls apart and dies.  You do not need to wash your underwear separately from other things and I would strongly encourage you not to.  Things that people do to protect themselves and others from the virus can become difficult to break habits, and unnecessary ones so try not to behave much differently than normal.

Terri
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