Oral Sex and HSV Transmission
Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2) is a type of herpes that is transmitted via sexual and skin to skin contact and may present with blisters, lesions, and sores on the skin. Though rarely, it can also spread via oral sex, especially in people with weak immune systems due to HIV/AIDs, chemotherapy or other autoimmune diseases.
HSV and its types
Herpes simplex virus is categorized as type 1 and type 2. Oral herpes, also known as cold sores are caused by HSV1, affecting almost half of the adult population in the United States. Whereas genital herpes is caused by HSV2. According to latest estimates reported by American Sexual Health Association, 1 of every 6 American, aged between 14 to 69, are affected by HSV2. Most of them are oblivious of infection because either they are asymptomatic or symptoms are too mild and are confused with other diseases or infections. Despite being categorized, both types can occur in oral or genital areas.
Transmission of HSV2
A skin to skin contact is essential for the transmission of HSV2. It is noteworthy that touching toilet seats, hot tubs or even semen does not cause the transmission of HSV2. It will only spread when the infected area meets mucous lining or exposed skin areas of an uninfected person. The initial symptoms appear within 2 weeks of exposure. This period is known as primary outbreak which can be severe and long-lasting than future outbreaks.
An active virus replicates inside the skin and mucous lining i.e. shedding. This leads to the formation of lesions and sores on the skin. At this point, viruses can be easily transferred from one individual to another. Once lesions are formed, the virus moves from skin surface to the sacral ganglia, the spines’ base. Here virus will become dormant for a period until it reactivates.
HSV2 transmission via oral sex
Comparatively to vaginal and anal sex, HSV2 is less likely to spread via oral sex. However, since mouth is also lined with mucous lining, it has potential to transmit the virus. For instance, an oral sex with person having genital herpes can infect mucous lining of mouth, which will enter nervous system and cause oral herpes. Similarly, an individual with oral herpes can spread genital herpes in other individual via oral sex.
HSV1 transmission via oral route
This type is typically transferred through sharing drinks or utensils and kissing an infected person. Majority of people get infected during childhood via non- sexual contact or kissing their family and/or friends. It can also transfer via receiving or giving oral sex, sharing sex toys, vaginal and anal sex.
Herpes Simplex Virus and its symptoms
HSV1 AND HSV2 both have similar symptoms. Sometimes it remains asymptomatic even in active form but is still capable of transmitting into others.
Following are the symptoms which people may experience:
- Painful red sores
- Oozing or bleeding blisters
- Skin irritation
- Itching or burning sensation around genitals or mouth
How to prevent transmission?
Unfortunately, HSV is not curable therefore, it is necessary to prevent its spread. Here are some methods to minimize your chances of contracting this infection.
- Get yourself and your partner tested for STIs more often
- Protected sex
- A long-term monogamous relationship with an uninfected individual
- Limit number of sex partners
- Sexual abstinence
- Avoid intercourse during herpes outbreaks
- An infected person’s partner should also use anti-herpes medicines
HSV is common and can easily spread even when asymptomatic. Since it has no cure, its prevention is crucial. Although, protected sex is encouraged but even that cannot guarantee safety.
- Mishra, A., & Verma, V. (2015). Oral sex and HPV: population based indications. Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, 67(1), 1-7.
- Marcus, J. L., Glidden, D. V., McMahan, V., Lama, J. R., Mayer, K. H., Liu, A. Y., … & Grant, R. M. (2014). Daily oral emtricitabine/tenofovir preexposure prophylaxis and herpes simplex virus type 2 among men who have sex with men. PLoS One, 9(3), e91513.