I have been exposed to herpes 2, info please?
December 8, 2008 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Herpes. I have just found out today that a very good friend of mine just found out that he has HSV-2 (genital herpes). He has never exhibited any symptoms, apparently he is what's called an asymptomatic carrier. He found out about a month ago because his new girlfriend had an outbreak (apparently she is not an asymptomatic carrier). He did some digging and figured out he probably contracted it sometime in 2006. Unfortunately, said friend and I slept together on a drunken night (when both of us were single) in spring 2007. We did not use a condom

(please, I don't need to be beaten up about this, i know).

I have had a boyfriend now for about the past year and a bit. We sleep together frequently. NEITHER of us have expressed any outbreaks (or noticeable one, at least) of the virus. Needless to say, with this news, we are both freaking out. I feel beyond awful.

I spoke to a nurse at a sexual health clinic and she told me that unless there is an outbreak and they can swab one of the sores, that blood tests are not reliable because some people have hsv-2 antibodies because they have been exposed at some point, but may not even be active carriers. She told me if i hadn't had an outbreak after over a year and 1/2 of exposure that i shouldn't worry. I'M WORRIED SICK.

Does anyone have any experience with this type of thing? What should I be doing? I have an appointment on Friday to speak with my doctor. I feel so awful that I could have infected my boyfriend too. Please, if anyone can give me any info that woudl be great.

NOTE: I have no way of knowing if the friend was having an 'outbreak' at the time we slept together because he does not exhibit symptoms.
posted by Waterbear to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Stop worrying. Just calm down. Take a deep breath. What happened, happened. You cannot take back that drunken night. Just wait until Friday and if your blood test comes back okay, you're fine. If it comes back positive, just wait it out and see if you have an outbreak. If you don't, fantastic. Keep living life and just be safe. Tell your boyfriend there is a chance that you might have herpes and apologize that you did not disclose this any earlier, but you didn't know, so you didn't do anything wrong.

Calm down, something like over 20% of people have genital herpes, and have you ever seen a cold sore? Yeah, I'm sure you have, because over 80% or so of people have oral herpes. It's not that serious.
posted by banannafish at 11:30 AM on December 8, 2008

Get the test! I had the same problem: the nurse I talked to tried really hard to talk me out of getting the blood test because of the possibility of a false positive. The negative result was worth it. If you don't get it, you'll just wonder anyway.

What should you do? Get the test. Take a breath. Herpes is bad for two reasons: outbreaks and telling people. No outbreaks? Fantastic! And, for now, you don't need to tell anyone about it because your boyfriend already knows. So get the test, but meanwhile, see if you can separate yourself from the response society has trained into you and see this as what it is in reality: not a big deal. Not fatal. Not painful. In your case, not in any way distinguishable from perfect health.
posted by prefpara at 11:41 AM on December 8, 2008

The nurse is correct about not worrying. You may have gotten lucky. Get the test if it makes you feel better, but also remember a positive can come from having chicken pox when you were a kid and having a cold sore.

I have been in the same type of situation. I was freaked out with worry, then I had another sucky thing in my life happen. I spoke with the nurse after all this, she said with the worry of having herpes and the stress of my suck situation I was currently in, I would have had an outbreak by now. That was 5-6 years ago. I still show no signs, neither has anyone else I've slept with.
posted by Attackpanda at 11:51 AM on December 8, 2008

Yeah, Herpes can not be a big deal, but it can also be a big deal. Absolutely inform any partners you've had during this period of the situation. You may have been infected by the virus, but you may not have. There is also a chance that this friend contracted Herpes at some point other than 2006. You can spread/get infected by the virus even while using a condom, using HSV-2 medication, and not expressing sores. You can get infected/express sores/shed virus in many areas of the body not just the bits covered by a condom.

Speak with your doctor, take any tests and follow ups the two of you decide are needed and live your life accordingly. HSV infections need to be seriously considered and not treated flippantly. If you or your partner are infected it may affect your future for example preventing ocular infection and having children.
posted by Science! at 11:51 AM on December 8, 2008

Just to clarify. This virus can lay dormant for years and not express sores, and some people never express sores. A carrier may still spread the virus to a person who doesn't immediately show sores but may in time, without informing partners carriers can infect many people. The more expensive PCR tests can distinguish HSV-2 from HSV-1 or chickenpox (VZV).

You're doing the right thing. Inform your partner, get tested. Live life accordingly.
posted by Science! at 11:58 AM on December 8, 2008

"that blood tests are not reliable because some people have hsv-2 antibodies because they have been exposed at some point, "

Clinics don't like to give the blood test, because it costs them money. The antigen-specific blood tests can rule out herpes. Get the IGM-2, and while you're at it, get the IGM-1 (even though most people are positive for IGM-1).

If the IGM-2 test comes back negative, you can relax.
posted by orthogonality at 12:14 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's a totally different perspective: This is TOTALLY NOT A BIG DEAL.

The vast majority of sexually active people (with more than one partner) have been exposed to HSV-2. MANY are carriers. Most are asymptomatic. You know how it's estimated that 45 million Americans have HSV-2 by the cdc? That's a conservative estimate, knowing that most carriers are asymptomatic. In fact, I think everyone should be under the assumption they've been exposed and are asymptomatic carriers. You don't have outbreaks? You're one of the lucky MANY. In fact, of the ones who are actually symptomatic, who are estimated by virologists to be in the MINORITY, MOST have an initial outbreak and never have another. The next most common scenario is occasional outbreaks over the course of a year and then never again. True story.

You and your boyfriend have a committed, sexually open relationship? Awesome. I'm not saying there's nothing to worry about, but what you have to worry about is so minute that you should direct your attention elsewhere. Really. Will you ever infect a future partner? Possibly, but rather unlikely - people without outbreaks are FAR less contagious. But it happened to your friend? Yes, and it can, but it's rare.

Here's the reality: Herpes hurts, but it's harmless. In the absolute worst case scenario, if you actually deveop symptoms (and you probably won't) you may have to C-section your children.

Are you obligated to tell any future partners that you MAY have been exposed? Frankly, I don't think so, but that's where my bff prefpara tends to think I'm immoral ;) Truth is, just by sharing with a sexual partner how many partners you've had in the past, it should give him an idea of statistical risks. You may have been exposed? Ok, he may have been exposed, too. In fact, he probably was. There's no way to know who's been exposed to what, so the general idea is to just assume there's been exposure and watch out for symptoms. See a doctor regularly.

Lastly, even if you found out for certain you've been exposed, and yeah, even PCRs can't tell you that at this point, there's not much you can do about it to protect others, short of celibacy. Sorry guys, condoms are ONLY PROVEN EFFECTIVE against HIV and gonorrhea. Not even chlamydia. Ouch, right? Didn't tell us that in 7th grade. So people need to decide whether they're willing to take the risk of sex. I think most of us are, and frankly, the consequences are nowhere near as horrifying as the fearmongers would have us believe (short of AIDS, of course).

As a general rant, America tends to side on puritanism when it comes to OMYGOD STDS! Most are curable, and of the ones that aren't, get the pap smears for HPV, and wear the condoms for HIV. Problem solved. Bottom line: see doctors regularly, check for symptoms, use protection - there's not much else available right now. Sex is risky business, and everyone needs to decide whether they're willing to take the risk.

When I was a premed, this sort of panic just baffled me.

End rant.
posted by namesarehard at 12:40 PM on December 8, 2008 [10 favorites]

I should mention the reason I am skeptical about an obligation to share potential exposure: exactly this sort of panic, and the consequences that ensue.

Case in point: a year ago, I went to dinner with my boyfriend, a good friend and the guy she was dating (who happened to be my boyfriend's roommate). STDs came up, and she and I both agreed that people blow the risks and significances way out of proportion (see my rant above) but she went so far as to mention that at 19, she was diagnosed with HPV, and that by now (age 25) she had been cleared, and that with proper care and attention, these more common STDs don't have to be a cause of immense panic. Unfortunately, her boyfriend dumped her for being "tainted and dirty." I knew both of these individuals well, and of the two of them, he was far, far more promiscuous. His sexual partner count was more than double hers, but he refused to acknowledge the possibility that he'd been exposed, and penalized her for her honesty, even though at five years clear of HPV, the virus was considered too dormant to ever reemerge.

I'm just saying, there are ignorant people out there. If you have an active case of a disease, by all means, you have an obligation to tell partners. But if there's a CHANCE you may have been EXPOSED once, several years ago with zero symptoms in the interim? Eh. Make your own choices.
posted by namesarehard at 1:03 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just to add some perspective: I believe that whole herpes issue is less of a STV and more of a psychological/cultural problem. Those HPV questions on MeFi pop up regularly (always from US people I guess) and as always I'm either puzzled or amused. This is a complete non-issue in my country as far as I can tell. Nobody ever speaks about it. If an ex ever calls me to tell me I might have gotten herpes from her I'd probably laugh myself silly and hang up. If you get open sores, well you put something on it and they disappear. Problem solved. What's the big deal? Forget it. Just about everybody with a sex life is probably infected sooner or later. This is not HIV. Don't you people have any real problems? Sheesh. End of rant.
posted by Nightwind at 1:21 PM on December 8, 2008

I don't think there's any need to go around telling people that you might have been exposed. You can get a blood test that will tell you with great accuracy whether you have HSV2 or not (IgG test, NOT IgM). If you test positive, then you should tell people.

If you do test positive, though, you should bear in mind that, if you were sexuallly active before that drunken night, then you could have been the one who gave it to your friend. Or you might have picked it up from someone else after that. And your boyfriend could already have it, but not from you. Studies show that 80 to 90 percent of people who have HSV2 don't know it because they either have no symptoms or have symptoms that they don't recognize as herpes, such as what they think is a pimple or an itch that lasts for a couple of days. And, it's often not part of standard STD tests, partly because a lot of medical professionals (like the nurse you spoke with) don't seem to be up on the latest information about testing (old tests couldn't distinguish reliably between HSV2 and HSV1, which a very high percentage of the adult population has in the form of oral herpes, so they weren't real informative in the absence of symptoms).

Anyway, rather than getting information from random person on the internet, check out the handbook at this link (which I am trying to put in link form, but it just isn't working. Sorry!) http://www.westoverheights.com/genital_herpes/handbook/view_the_chapters.html

And yes, it's really not a big deal. I have it. I had a first outbreak of epically horrible proportions, far, far worse than 95% of people with herpes have. And I got over it. I've been on valtrex and have had no further outbreaks, haven't transmitted it to my boyfriend (as far as we know), and I really don't even think about it. Obviously, no one wants to give it to anyone, because of the slight chance that that person will have a very bad experience and because of the stigma. But for most people, at worst, it's a not very serious skin disease that doesn't do any long-term damage to your health (not any more than chicken pox).
posted by Dolukhanova at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

"If you get open sores, well you put something on it and they disappear. What's the big deal?"

Ummm.... open sores?
posted by outsider at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2008

I definitely don't think you need to be telling people that you might have been exposed. Honestly, I figure that that goes without saying -- anyone who has had sex (with or without condoms) may have been exposed to a variety of diseases. Unless you actually catch something, you don't need to worry about it.

And I agree with the clinic about the herpes test not being very useful for you. Even if it comes back positive, how do you know that that has anything to do with the guy you hooked up with, and not the cold sore you got on your lip from sharing cups in preschool?
posted by Forktine at 4:09 PM on December 8, 2008

It's also worth remembering that even if you get a blood test and it's positive for HSV2, that still won't tell you if you have "genital" herpes, since it won't tell you where you have herpes: it's possible to have HSV2 on your mouth as well as HSV1 on your genitals. The only way to know for certain if you have HSV2 is if you get an outbreak and have it swabbed.

The hysterical fear many people have of herpes is unfounded. Most of the time, it's a pretty minor disease, as diseases go.
posted by Violet Hour at 4:05 AM on December 9, 2008

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