Is Genital Herpes Contagious?

The answer might seem obvious, but I get this question often in clinic. In particular, patients want to know if genital herpes is contagious even if they or their partner is not having an outbreak.

The answer is yes. Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease and is highly contagious. Although the risk of infecting someone else is much higher if you’re having an outbreak, it is still possible to transmit the virus, called HSV, even if you have no symptoms. About 1 in every 6 adults has genital herpes.

Once you have herpes, there is way to cure it. It is common to have recurring outbreaks especially in the first year, but in most people these lessen over time.

The only way to ensure you won’t get herpes is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a monogamous relationship with a partner who is not infected. Wearing a condom can reduce the chances of infection, but it’s still possible to be transmitted. Taking anti-herpes medication such as acyclovir can reduce the amount of virus and minimize the risk of transmitting it.

April is STD awareness month. If you’re thinking you might need to get tested, then you need to get tested.


Photo: Nicolai Grut, Flickr

Skin Cancer Where The Sun Don’t Shine

HPV Can Cause Skin Cancer

Not all skin cancers are from sun exposure. Viruses such as human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts, also cause skin cancer. Skin cancer from HPV develops on genital skin in both men and women. It is rarely talked about, but it’s important and can be deadly.

Did you know that half of all deaths from skin cancer other than melanoma are from genital skin cancer? You probably also didn’t know that women are more likely to die from genital skin cancer as they are from skin cancer that developed from sun exposure (again, excluding melanoma).

We dermatologists are inexhaustible when it comes to warning people about the dangers of sun exposure, but we should also be warning people about the dangers of genital warts. HPV protection, which includes HPV vaccines, is as important as sun protection in preventing death from non-melanoma skin cancer.

Genital warts can lead to deadly skin cancer. If your dermatologist has not checked your genital skin, then be sure your primary care physician or gynecologist does. This is especially important, because unlike other STDs which often have symptoms, HPV or genital warts often don’t. It may be embarrassing, but it could save your life.

Photo: practical owl, flickr.