The dreaded hook-up
October 28, 2009 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Got lucky last night and made out with a hot girl. Awesome! Hot girl then confessed that she has herpes. Erg... HSV-1/-2 questions inside.

I did the obvious researching on the 'net, called Planned Parenthood, made an appointment. But still need hard answers. She claims she has HSV-2, genital herpes, and that only genital contact will pass it on. I read that, while unlikely, kissing her (ie., sharing saliva) could also do this.

So, my first question: what are the odds? She didn't seem to be suffering from an outbreak, and I didn't go anywhere near her private part.

Second question: why is testing for it so difficult? I'm reading conflicting accounts. Some websites say that unless I'm actually openly soring (sorry for imagery), the only way to get tested is through some university in Washington?? And then I hear about so-called blood tests for herpes, which an equal number of sources claims doesn't exist.

For the record, no Planned Parenthood center in New York City does herpes testing (my appointment is for general STD testing). So where can I go? Is there such a thing as a blood test for herpes? And what's this U. of Washington thing all about?

And am I imagining that I'm sort of itching everywhere? Or could it really be?

Help!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total)
 
A google search yields this list of places that do herpes testing in NYC: http://www.google.com/#hl=en&source=hp&q=herpes+test+nyc&aq=f&aqi=g-m1&oq=&fp=b8148470ea1f7ec2

Also see: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/std/stdh2.shtml
posted by dfriedman at 7:55 PM on October 28, 2009


Unlikely.
posted by johngoren at 7:58 PM on October 28, 2009


Centers for Disease Control says you are ok: http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/STDFact-herpes.htm

Appears you must have sexual contact to get it on genitals.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:58 PM on October 28, 2009


You can go to a lab in Jersey. There's a confidential STD test that costs $250 (at least it did 2 years ago). Google "confidential STD test in New Jersey". You might even be able to go to a lab in NY.

There's a blood test for HSV1 and 2 and the $250 test covers both as well as HIV, and a couple others (not that you necessarily need those right now) and you might be able to pick testing for HSV only.

I would post a link, but I'm on the iPhone. Use the GoogleFu, Anon. ;)
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 7:58 PM on October 28, 2009


Here's my understanding, someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but there seems to be some confusion here. HSV-1 is most commonly the oral version, and you're pretty much bound to have been exposed to it before; HSV-2 is most commonly genital. It is possible to have either virus on either part of your body, despite the trends (see here - lots of good info in that thread, too). However: once people have contracted it on one bit of their body, they're highly unlikely to get it somewhere else. So if she's got HSV-2 genitally, she's unlikely to also have it orally, and if you two didn't have any genital contact you should be completely in the clear. Talk to your doctor if it will help with your anxiety, but really, if I'm reading your post correctly then you have nothing to worry about (and I'm a total hypochondriac, so if I wouldn't be worried in your place then you should be just fine). Don't spend $250 on a rush STI test - which is a good idea in general if you're sexually active, but that's another issue - before getting more information.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:17 PM on October 28, 2009


Oh also: it would help if you told us what Hot Girl told you. Did she say "Hey, I have HSV-2 orally, and am currently having an outbreak, sorry I didn't tell you before we kissed," or was it like, "Hey, I have genital herpes so you should know that you might potentially be exposed if we were to have sex in the future"?
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:18 PM on October 28, 2009


follow-up from the op
Unfortunately, Hot Girl has since gone coy, and is not very responsive, adding to my sense of dread. At the time, we were both drunk, so hard to say exactly what she told me, but I was able to piece together that she has HSV-2, is not currently breaking out, and, presumably, is on medication. (Actually, the last two are both assumptions, based on other things I know about her, like the fact that she's a sex-positive, queer-positive activist, into social work, all about health & safety, and so on.)

Thanks everybody for trying to reassure me, but I'm not convinced. I also found something called "PersonaLabs" that does something like mail-order blood testing, as far as I can tell. Does anybody know anything about, or have any experience with this? You're supposed to pre-pay, then find a center near you.

And I really am feeling itchy in places! Please tell me that's my overactive imagination
posted by jessamyn at 8:39 PM on October 28, 2009


Dude, chill out. Something like half the population in the US has it; in your case, something less than a 50% chance because I'm guessing you're around, what? 19? Still, at least a 30% likelihood you're already infected. Most people don't have symptomatic recurrent cold sores, so if you haven't had apparent oral herpes, it doesn't mean you aren't infected. Of all the people in your life you have ever kissed, you can assume half also had HSV-1 and could have infected you. There is no reason to be any more concerned about this brief kiss than any other.
posted by banannafish at 8:50 PM on October 28, 2009


Thanks everybody for trying to reassure me, but I'm not convinced.

What are you not convinced of? If she has herpes on her genitals ONLY, and you didn't touch her genitals, there's nothing to worry about.

Please see www.ashastd.org for real, medical information. Whatever you read that said you can pass HSV from the genitals to the mouth without actual contact is completely absurd.

And yes, you're imagining being itchy.

ON PREVIEW: reading your followup:

, so hard to say exactly what she told me, but I was able to piece together that she has HSV-2, is not currently breaking out, and, presumably, is on medication.

you don't even know what she told you, so you may have been exposed to HSV 1 or 2 *orally* only, though, if you really didn't touch her business.
posted by tristeza at 8:56 PM on October 28, 2009


Did her mouth or genitals contact your genitals? If not: you didn't contract genital herpes.

If she had HSV-2 herpes orally, and you just kissed her, then there's a small chance you may have contracted HSV-2 orally.

Whatever the situation, take a deep breath, remember that it's not fatal, talk to a doctor, and for god's sake don't pre-pay for anything over the Internet.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:58 PM on October 28, 2009


Oh jeez, dude. You're not going to get HSV-2 from kissing her, antibodies wouldn't show up in a blood test for three months, and even if by some miraculous stroke of bad luck you did get it, you wouldn't be having symptoms the day after.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:01 PM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Usually you actually have to fuck to get genital herpes. If Hot Girl was not in the midst of a breakout at the time, you're good. Almost everyone has some form of herpes. About a quarter of the American population has genital herpes. It affects some worse that others. For most people, it's no big deal as long as you avoid sex during an outbreak. I've had it for 30 years and I've been married for the last 26 and my wife doesn't have it.

An unrelated statistic: if you have unprotected sex with a woman who has HIV, the odds are about 1 in 500. Don't be reckless, but don't be paranoid, either.
posted by Pistol at 9:12 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Take a deep breath, you are fine!

She claims she has HSV-2, genital herpes, and that only genital contact will pass it on. I read that, while unlikely, kissing her (ie., sharing saliva) could also do this.

Where did you read that? It's not true. Unless you were kissing her on her vulva. People with genital herpes do not have virus in their saliva. People with oral herpes can have the virus in their saliva if they are experiencing an outbreak or an episode of shedding, but that is because the virus is erupting from the skin of their mouth/lips and gets into the saliva that way.

So, my first question: what are the odds? She didn't seem to be suffering from an outbreak, and I didn't go anywhere near her private part.

If you did not go anywhere near her genitals, you did not contract her genital herpes.

Second question: why is testing for it so difficult? I'm reading conflicting accounts. Some websites say that unless I'm actually openly soring (sorry for imagery), the only way to get tested is through some university in Washington?? And then I hear about so-called blood tests for herpes, which an equal number of sources claims doesn't exist.

There are two general types of herpes tests: a swab test, in which material from a fresh open sore is cultured to see if the herpes virus is present, and a blood test, which tests for the presence of antibodies to the virus (and does indeed exist). The swab test can only be done when there is a fresh open sore. The blood test, on the other hand, is only accurate when done long enough after the point of exposure that your body has developed detectable levels of antibodies. This can vary from person to person and it is recommended that you wait 12-16 weeks after exposure before testing to be on the safe side. So you can't actually be tested for herpes at this point, because you have no sores and the makeout session occurred very recently. But all of this is moot anyway, because if you are correct that her herpes is genital and not oral, then you were never in contact with it.

Even though Planned Parenthood in NYC doesn't test for herpes, making an appointment there was the right move. They will be happy to talk with you about your concerns, and hopefully reassure you in a way that random people on the internet cannot. They will likely advise you that above-the-waist contact is not a risk factor for the transmission of genital herpes, and that there is no need for you to be tested.

And am I imagining that I'm sort of itching everywhere? Or could it really be?

Yes, you're imagining it. Relax! :)
posted by purplemonkie at 9:45 PM on October 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Speaking from personal experience: an STD scare makes you itch like a motherfucker, whether or not you've actually caught anything. Psychosomatic symptoms are a wonderful thing.

(You say you're itching "places." Quick test — are any of those places not your mouth? Then you're definitely imagining things. Herpes is a localized infection. None of your more intimate "places" would be itching if you'd caught herpes by kissing this girl.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:59 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Herpes isn't like the flu, that you have it just floating around in the air around you, and that it's on your hands and your nose and such all at the same time. The herpes virus isn't present in locations that aren't infected. Now, you can be infected and not know about it, like you could have both genital and oral and not know about the oral, but that's just the same damn statistics that you're playing about with every single other person in the entire population. By the way, almost everyone has oral herpes. If you're used to mouth-kissing adults, you've probably had it for years. That's what a cold sore is - people get them when they're stressed, and it's an expression of HSV.

Now, not only is it not present in areas that aren't infected, it's usually not present in areas that ARE infected. If you're not having an outbreak (i.e. if you don't have any warts/sores right now) you probably aren't shedding virus. Sometimes you can shed virus for a day or two before an outbreak; but most people go years between outbreaks, as well. I also don't think that scientists have ruled out the possibility of transmission when completely asymptomatic.

In general what you need to know (and this one has taken me years and years to figure out): When something says, "X bad thing can happen even if..." it often means, "this thing, even though unlikely, is still technically possible". So, when someone says, "You can get herpes even if there aren't any sores right now" it does NOT mean that YOU WILL GET HERPES OMG. It means it is technically possible. Like, if she had a cold sore that she hadn't noticed yet, it could be shedding virus. Or if she were *just about* to get a cold sore, it could be shedding virus even though the sore itself wouldn't show up until tomorrow morning. But it isn't shedding its way from her vulva up to her mouth!
posted by Lady Li at 10:08 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Clarification on 'almost everyone': estimates for HSV-1 prevalence range from 50 to 80 (or in some studies 90) percent of US adults.
posted by Lady Li at 10:09 PM on October 28, 2009


You probably had the oral strain of herpes already before the incident. Most people you'll meet will.
posted by ZaneJ. at 10:26 PM on October 28, 2009


addiltional follow-up from the OP
Actually, I've now found out that it's HSV-1 in the genitals. So, on the one hand, much less serious, but, on the other hand, higher chance of contracting it perhaps, since she could also have contracted it in her mouth? Or have we ruled that out as a possibility?

In any case, thank you all so much for putting my mind at ease. I will still get myself tested (for other STDs), and will probably get a blood test in 3 months' time (I think I owe it to my future partners, frankly), but for now, the panic has subsided. I'd favorite Lady Li's and purplemonkie's answers if I could.
posted by jessamyn at 10:41 PM on October 28, 2009


Actually, I've now found out that it's HSV-1 in the genitals. So, on the one hand, much less serious, but, on the other hand, higher chance of contracting it perhaps, since she could also have contracted it in her mouth? Or have we ruled that out as a possibility

Wait, what? Are you sure you know as much as you think you know about HSV? Why is genital herpes much less serious and why is there is a higher chance of contracting it?
posted by Justinian at 10:55 PM on October 28, 2009


OP promises last update
My understanding is, and I think others here have pointed it out, HSV-1's "natural home" is the mouth, and HSV-2's is the genitals. This doesn't mean you can't catch either in either place, but it could mean that the symptoms are much weaker if it's crossed. Genital herpes is still genital herpes, but, if it's HSV-1, it's likely to not act up as much (right?). That's the "less serious" part. On the other hand, since its natural home is the mouth, and we were kissing, I thought perhaps my chance of catching it were increased somehow, especially if she also had it in her mouth (unconfirmed, not sure if that's even possible).
posted by jessamyn at 11:09 PM on October 28, 2009


On the other hand, since its natural home is the mouth, and we were kissing, I thought perhaps my chance of catching it were increased somehow, especially if she also had it in her mouth (unconfirmed, not sure if that's even possible).

Go back to what Lady Li wrote, because I think it'll clear some things up for you. As she says, this isn't like a flu, where one day it's all up in your sinuses and the next day it's a sore throat and the next day it's chest congestion. You get it in one spot. It stays put, right in the immediate little area where you caught it. It doesn't course through your bloodstream, it doesn't fly through the air, it just digs in and sits there. Meaning that if Hot Girl doesn't have oral herpes, there is no herpes virus in her mouth, period.

When people say its "natural home" is the mouth, they mean it's statistically more likely for someone to have oral HSV-1 than genital HSV-1. More than 50% of HSV-1 cases are oral; less than 50% are genital. That's all. But if Hot Girl has genital HSV-1 — which is totally plausible; "less than 50%" is nowhere near the same as "impossible" — then it's staying put in her genitals, not going anywhere else, regardless of where its so-called "natural home" is.

You mention the possibility that she could have oral and genital HSV-1. But it's very, very unlikely. This is because of a quirk of the human immune system. Like with its distant cousin chicken pox, nearly everyone develops immunity to herpes within a week or so of catching it once. Unlike with chicken pox, the initial herpes infection sticks around, but so do the antibodies that let us fight off a subsequent infection. The result is that almost all cases of genital HSV-1 are in people who never caught oral HSV-1 and never built up those antibodies. There are exceptions to this, but still: all else equal, knowing that Hot Girl has genital herpes means she is less likely to have oral herpes — and therefore safer to kiss — than some random stranger whose STD status you know nothing about.

Incidentally, if Hot Girl is not calling you back or whatever, it might be because she's feeling a little insecure about all this. Triggering someone else's STD freakout is not really much more fun than having one of your own. You might want to let her know that you aren't mad/disgusted/judgmental/whatever at her, and maybe thank her for being honest with you, if she's someone you can have that conversation with.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:41 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


If it's HSV-1, then you probably already have it, so you should stop freaking out and be nice to this hot girl who wanted to hook up with you, and hook up with her some more. If she'll even talk to you anymore.
posted by The Monkey at 4:30 AM on October 29, 2009


Glad you're feeling more relaxed! But one more thing...

I will still get myself tested (for other STDs), and will probably get a blood test in 3 months' time (I think I owe it to my future partners, frankly), but for now, the panic has subsided.

Honestly, I would not bother getting the blood test. There is no way you contracted herpes from your encounter with this girl. If you get a blood test 3 months from now and it comes back positive, all that means is that you've been exposed to the virus at some point in your life, as have the majority of adults. As several people have mentioned above, if you've been mouth-kissing folks for any significant period of your life you probably already have oral herpes. Heck, lots of people are infected as kids from kissing their parents. Most people who've been exposed to oral herpes have no idea because they've never had an outbreak, and if you've never had an outbreak it really isn't an "inform your sexual partners!!" type of situation.

This is one reason why some places don't do herpes blood tests; most adults will test positive and the information isn't really all that helpful (but would probably still freak the person out). The exception is if someone has already had an outbreak with actual sores, and they want to know whether it was caused by HSV1 or HSV2.
posted by purplemonkie at 4:50 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Most likely, this girl has oral herpes in addition to genital herpes unless she had oral sex with a partner with an oral HSV-1 infection but did not kiss them. And unlike what everyone on this site seems to want to believe, you can very well have an HSV-1 or -2 infection in multiple places on your body - passing the virus from an open sore on your lip to your eye, for example, is a very common and serious complication of HSV infections. It iIt only naturally spreads from your skin to the nerves in that area but you can spread it site to site on your own body.

When they say HSV-1's natural home is the mouth, they mean that it replicates more efficiently and is better able to establish infection in the tissues of the mouth. That's why it is more likely for someone to have oral HSV-1 than genital HSV-1. So, yes, if she does have an oral infection you are more likely to get it orally because that is the area the virus prefers. And OP is correct is saying that HSV-2 is more serious, especially in the genitals as genital HSV-1 (I believe) is less likely to reactivate (cause new outbreaks) than HSV-2.

HSV is not an airborne virus and it is somewhat fragile so you need direct contact with an exposed sore, an area that is shedding (which happens more often than you think), or fluid from the sore. If she does have oral HSV, you were probably exposed to her HSV; however, as others have pointed out you probably already had oral HSV.

(Also, chicken pox infections do stay around. All herpes infections whether it be HSV or VZV are for life.)
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 6:06 AM on October 29, 2009


And unlike what everyone on this site seems to want to believe, you can very well have an HSV-1 or -2 infection in multiple places on your body - passing the virus from an open sore on your lip to your eye, for example, is a very common and serious complication of HSV infections. It only naturally spreads from your skin to the nerves in that area but you can spread it site to site on your own body.

This is really a concern only during the initial outbreak, before the immune system has developed sufficient antibodies to the virus. After that it is highly unlikely that someone will spread the same strain of herpes from one place on their body to another. No need to scare people unnecessarily.
posted by purplemonkie at 6:19 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few more thoughts:

1. The reason why Planned Parenthood doesn't have herpes testing is because they don't think it's that big a deal.

2. The reason Hot Girl told you could be that she wants to get serious with you.

3. Additionally, she might have told you to gauge your reaction and see what kind of character you have. Did you freak out and act like a scared, self-centered dick? Or did you treat her like a human being?
posted by Pistol at 8:14 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


What most interests me about this askme and many of the responses is the impression that HSV1 is better to have than HSV2, when in fact, they're nearly the same virus, they have the same symptoms (a rash), and they're passed the same way (contact with a sore, or through viral shedding). However, because one is associated with sexual activity (preferring the nerve bundles below the waist) and the other isn't (preferring the nerve bundles in the face), one invokes a big freakout and the other invokes a small 'meh'. The difference, and the main downside of having HSV2, is the social stigma, not the severity of the virus.
posted by 2xplor at 10:44 AM on October 29, 2009


As far as I know, HSV1 is not a threat to babies during pregnancy or birth.

Not all broken bones are the same, even though a broken pelvis and a broken tibia are both bones that have to knit.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:05 AM on October 29, 2009


The difference, and the main downside of having HSV2, is the social stigma, not the severity of the virus.

I see your overall point, but that's not exactly true; people with genital HSV1 generally have fewer and less severe breakouts than people with genital HSV2, so in some ways if you're gonna get genital herpes you want it to be HSV1. I think the stigma has more to do with the location of the outbreak, not the viral strain.
posted by purplemonkie at 1:05 PM on October 29, 2009


To emphasize what others have already said: consider that HotGirl even bothered to tell you at all, something which might not have been entirely pleasant for her given the stigma associate with herpes. It would have been much much simpler for her to not say anything.
posted by lex mercatoria at 1:06 PM on October 29, 2009


Whatever you do next, you should first praise her for her candor. That couldn't have been fun for her.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:20 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


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