Information about preventing the transmission of herpes.
Yes. But let’s give this information a bit more context.
Valacyclovir (sold in the US under the brand name Valtrex) is a widely-prescribed drug used to treat all the common viruses in the herpes family: oral herpes, genital herpes, and herpes zoster (VZV, known as chickenpox the first time you get it, or shingles when the latent virus reactivates in your body later in life). It’s also used to prevent or reduce recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes, while reducing the risk of transmission to someone who doesn’t have genital herpes.
Controlling the spread of genital herpes is difficult—about 16% of Americans have herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2, the strain most often associated with genital herpes), but between 75-90% of those people don’t know they have it. That’s because genital herpes is often asymptomatic, or the symptoms (primarily sores on or around the genitals) are mild enough to go unnoticed. If you don’t show any symptoms of it, the only way to know for sure is a blood test.
Valacyclovir cuts the risk of transmitting genital herpes in half, and using condoms cuts the risk in half again. But the risk of transmitting the disease is already pretty low: overall, the risk of an infected person transmitting genital herpes to a partner is about 4%, and as noted above, the vast majority of people who do get infected show no symptoms, or very few.
So yes, the risk is low, but if you have genital herpes, you do need to take every preventative measure you can, including a preventative drug like valacyclovir, and using condoms. And of course, the first step is disclosing your status to potential partners before sex (and before you’re in the moment, too!).
Despite the transmission risk being relatively low, genital herpes is still a major public health issue, precisely for the reason that most people who have it are carriers without any symptoms. That means that the virus spreads rapidly among populations, because so few people are aware they have it, and not all of those who are aware are taking preventative action.
People who have frequent outbreaks (more than eight per year) are ‘shedding virus’—that is, contagious—about 31% of the time, and people who have one to seven outbreaks a year are contagious about 19% of the time. For both groups, the risk of transmission goes up if they’re having an active outbreak. But even people who have no symptoms are still contagious about 10% of the time.
Talk to your doctor if you’re worried you have been exposed to genital herpes.