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Ask Dr. K

I went to the doctor for a rash on the sides of my torso. I tested positively for genital herpes, but I have never had any signs of herpes before. I have not been in a sexual relationship with anyone for 3 years before my new relationship, and my partner tested negatively for STDs. My doctor said I probably have immunity to herpes and I have less than 1% chance of spreading the virus to my partner. Is this accurate?

Mmmm. Herpes on the torso. That’s not common and could be easily confused by you or your doctor with herpes zoster which sounds like herpes but is actually caused by a different virus called varicella, the virus that causes chicken pox.

But let’s talk about genital herpes, the kind caused by the herpes simplex virus types 1 or 2 which is sexually transmitted, spread from person to person during sex and very common. Many people never show signs of genital herpes, and those that do can have many different types of outbreaks from a little genital itching or burning to fluid-filled blisters that last for a couple of days and then become painful sores that eventually heal in days to weeks. Often outbreaks can be triggered by stress, other illnesses, lack of sleep, and perhaps genital friction—meaning that some people can have an outbreak after being sexually active.

There is no way to cure herpes, though there are antiviral medications like acyclovir available to treat it. These can lessen the risk of spreading herpes to others, but there are no ways to completely reduce that risk. No one is immune to herpes…yet (a vaccine for women might be coming soon)—even if you are on medication and use condoms, there is still a slight possibility that you will give it to your sex partners. Using condoms regularly and not having sex when you have an outbreak are the best ways to protect you and your partner.

For more information about herpes, visit

To your health,
Dr. K

Last modified on Wednesday, November 18, 2009.
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