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Did Grandma Give You Herpes


This article, while compiled from the most credible medical and scientific sources, is not meant as medical advice and it is not a substitute for the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare professional.  For any medical questions or concerns you may have, please talk with your doctor first.  Do not try to self-diagnose, and this may lead to a wrong conclusion, and you may be tempted to try various therapeutic products which might not work, or which might exacerbate your condition.

How People Get Infected With HSV

Herpes simplex viruses are primarily transmitted from person to person through direct skin-to-skin contact, or through direct exposure to bodily fluids that contain infective Herpes virus particles.  Sexual activity is the number one cause of transmission of HSV-2 (responsible primarily for causing genital herpes outbreaks), and HSV-1 (primarily responsible for causing oral herpes outbreaks, also called ‘cold sores’) is transmitted by direct contact, such as through touching another person, a friendly kiss from an infected family member, romantic kissing, and by direct contact with materials (such as a towel used by an infected individual).

The latest research, from Princeton University, shows that it may only take 1 or 2 herpes virus particles to achieve an infection.

The good news is that this may lead to future treatments that only have to deal with a small number of virus particles.  The other side of the coin is that herpes is extremely infectious, and if it only takes a few virus particles to transmit the virus to someone else, the risk of contagion is higher.

Further, the virus reproduces so quickly once it has attached to a host cell and started to replicate, that literally millions of newly created viral particles can be released into the system – each seeking a new host cell to attach to in order to further reproduce.  It’s a vicious cycle: a virus particle attaches to a human host cell, injects its virus DNA or RNA into that cell, and reproduces inside that cell.  When the level of newly produced virus particles is large enough, they erupt from the host cell and each new virus particle seeks a new host cell to infect and reproduce inside of.  Over and over and over.

How to Minimize the Risk of Infection

Learning about the signs, symptoms and routes of transmission is one of the most important steps you can take to minimize your risk of infection, if you have not yet been exposed to or infected with the herpes virus.

It is important to note that with nearly 80% of the U.S. population testing positive for antibodies to the herpes viruses, it is nearly impossible to avoid contact with someone who has the herpes virus in their system.  Some educators say to simply assume that everyone has the herpes virus.  It’s not far from the absolute truth.

More than half of those infected don’t know they have herpes, but the chances that many – if not most – people you know, and are in contact with daily – in school, at work, at leisure and at home – ARE carriers of the herpes virus whether they are having an active outbreak at that moment, or are simply harboring a dormant virus that can be re-awakened at any time.

Is it also important to reinforce that the herpes virus is also transmitted by shedding of infected skin cells, even when no outbreak is present.  You do NOT need to have an outbreak to be able to transmit herpes.

Minimizing the risk of infection has TWO components: protecting yourself, and protecting others (if you have herpes).  Protecting yourself, assuming you have NOT been infected with the HSV virus, is a matter of being a little selfish and self-protective, and educating yourself about the herpes virus, how it works, how it’s transmitted, and how to isolate yourself from likely infection.

Here Comes Grandma

It has been shown that with HSV-1 (oral herpes), most people have already been infected by the time they are 20 years old or even younger!

This is most likely due to familial kisses from parents, grandparents, or other extended family members, and can easily be spread by childhood games where there is some form of child-to-child contact – for example ‘kissing parties’ often engaged in by school-aged children.

Increasing the number of people that you have direct intimate contact with increases your potential for contracting a herpes infection.

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Information For Parents

Parents need to know that their children may be at risk for herpes infections through familial kissing, i.e. a kiss on the cheek from grandpa or grandma, for example, or even a kiss from infected parents themselves.

Often, young children can develop a Herpes simplex infection on an area of skin that was kissed (cheek, back, forehead, shoulder, etc.) by someone with an active herpes sore.  This type of transmission can be drastically minimized by avoiding kisses during active breakouts, since individuals are most infective during an active breakout.

If you notice, as a parent, that an older family member (aunt, uncle, grandparent or spouse) exhibits cold sores, we strongly recommend that you help them become educated about herpes, and the risk of transmitting it to an as-yet uninfected child.  Remember, there is NO CURE for the herpes virus (no matter what you may have heard or read on the internet).  Once you’ve been infected, the herpes virus is in your system for the rest of your life.

Remember, a child’s immune system is less suited to handle such an aggressive virus, and extra care must be taken if you know that you as a parent, or another adult in your family circle, does indeed have herpes.

In addition, children have been playing ‘kissing games’ during their school-aged years for many decades.  With the increasing incidence of HSV-1 in the population, it is more and more likely that one or more children in the group may in fact have been exposed to the HSV-1 virus, and could easily pass it on to one or many other friends or classmates.

Parents and educators have a very important role to play – and we recognize that any discussion of sexual activity in schools or to school-aged children may be a topic of great controversy, both politically and religiously.

But the truth is inescapable: children MUST be told about the potential risks to their health and the health of others that could be jeopardized for the rest of their lives through what they believe may be ‘harmless’ play.

While such a talk may be uncomfortable, it is a serious medical topic that must be addressed. Remember, there is no shame in having herpes; it’s just a common disease like many others – you wouldn’t be ashamed of talking with someone in your family about diabetes, for example, and so you should not be ashamed of protecting your children with regard to herpes.

You may also consider having some level of discussion with your school-aged children, so they can notice others who exhibit cold sores (which are indeed caused by the HSV-1 virus) and be more careful about direct contact.

There are many credible and helpful resources for parents regarding information and guidance for talking with children about herpes.  Google “teaching children about herpes” (don’t use the quotation marks), and you will find literally millions of web sites relating to this subject.

VERY IMPORTANT: Verify the credibility of any site you read – and stick those that are primarily

legitimate medical and educational sites and avoid those that are attempting to commercially sell you a treatment or remedy.  Make sure that any supplements you may consider have substantial scientific evidence, not just testimonials from supposed customers who have suddenly been cured in a week.

Talk with your doctor or dermatologist who is best qualified to explain and elaborate on how herpes can be transmitted.  You may also find benefit talking with your children’s teachers, who are likely to have dealt with this subject already.

Parents should learn how to explain ‘cold sores’ (HSV-1 outbreaks) to their children who may exhibit them and may feel unwell or embarrassed.  Showing up at school with cold sores may be a cause of embarrassment or may subject a child to ridicule or bullying.  The more your child understands the nature of these outbreaks, the better they will be able to deal with social consequences that may occur.  Parental and school-based educational programs about herpes are the most effective ways to protect children from this life-long virus and the pain and embarrassment that outbreaks may cause.

It is of course advised that parents tailor what they say to children depending on their age, level of comprehension and maturity.  Our children are well worth protecting, even at the cost of an uncomfortable or embarrassing conversation.  The rewards significantly outweigh the temporary discomfort of ‘having the talk’.