Dear Lucy: If my partner has herpes but no outbreaks, and the condom breaks unknowingly, but we take a shower after we finish, will it still be contagious? —Worried
Dear Worried: That is a worrying scenario, indeed, and knowing how anxious you are for an answer, Lucy went looking for answers immediately. And she was fortunate to have an expert at the ready — Dr. Howard Heller, a former MIT Medical associate medical director and infectious disease specialist.
The news from Heller was sobering. “Even in the absence of a current outbreak, a herpes infection can be contagious,” he tells Lucy. “And there is no evidence that washing afterward will reduce the risk of STD transmission.”
Lucy applauds your condom use but reminds you that while a condom, used correctly, can reduce your risk of getting genital herpes, it’s not foolproof — even if it doesn’t break. A condom protects only the area of the body that it covers. Areas the condom doesn’t cover can become infected.
Heller recommends that both you and your partner familiarize yourself with the facts about herpes in this factsheet from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). He also suggests that your partner talk with their primary care provider about long-term antiviral therapy with a drug such as valacyclovir to suppress outbreaks.
In the meantime, both Lucy and Heller remind you to be alert for any symptoms that you may have been infected. Get checked out immediately if you notice any sores, itching or burning in the genital area. —Lucy