Dear Dr. Kate,
I just found out that my roommate has herpes. We all live in a tight space, and share one bathroom. I had a bit of a panic attack that I was at serious risk of contracting the STD, but then realized I didn¹t know enough about herpes to warrant any heart attacks just yet. So how much cause for alarm is there?
There¹s another issue: my roommate doesn¹t know that I know, and my other roommates don¹t know either. I certainly don¹t want to make my roommate any more upset about contracting it, and I¹m not going to gossip about someone else¹s own private battles. But when does a private matter like this need to go public?
-Transmission Control

Dear TC,

No need to call the cardiologist--unless you and your roommate are sharing more than rent, you're not at risk of contracting herpes from them. While it's true that the herpes virus can live outside the body (and longer in warm damp conditions like freshly used towels) the virus doesn't live very long: we're talking several minutes at most.  Herpes may be transmissible in many ways, but they're all sexual. So no sharing underwear or wet towels to be totally safe, and you're good to go.

Such a private matter only needs to go public when others' health is at stake. Your roommate isn't putting you guys at risk, so there's no need to betray his or her privacy.


Conrad Grossman said:

Do they have complex 1 or 2? I have complex 1, which pretty much everyone else in the world has. Complex 1 can come from your parents, sharing drinks, kissing, playing tag, etc... One needs to specify when they say they have herpes, you find out the same way (STD/I testing), which herpes they have (or their roomate).

gina said:

but i don't think herpes complex 1 is necessarily always oral herpes, right? i thought that sometimes complex 1 could be genital and vice versa, because of all the unprotected oral sex going on these days...

Dr. Kate said:

Conrad, you raise a good point--I should have asked whether or not the writer was concerned about genital herpes (which was my assumption). But Gina is right, too--the type of virus you happen to have (type I or II) is not a guarantee of where your herpes shows itself. It's about 80/20 these days: about 80% of oral herpes (cold sores) is type I, and about 80% of genital herpes is type II. This is why blood testing for herpes generally can't tell you if you have the genital kind--unless you test positive for both types (in which case you can likely count yourself afflicted).


If you let someone give you oral sex while they have a cold sore, doesn't it convert to II and then you could up w/ genital herpes even if they themselves only have I?

Dr. Kate said:

It's true that if someone goes down on you with an active cold sore, they can give you genital herpes. But it can be type I or type II that causes your herpes--the virus doesn't actually convert.

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