There are a number of techniques which can be used to radically reduce the risk of contracting herpes. However, people should be aware that the only foolproof method for herpes prevention is to abstain entirely from close physical contact with anyone who has not been recently screened for herpes. All sexually active individuals should make a habit of being regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections, including herpes, as it is possible to carry an infection without being aware of it, and herpes is actually extremely common in the general population.
Being in a monogamous relationship can greatly reduce the risk of contracting herpes, as long as both partners are tested at the start of the relationship to confirm their herpes status. If both partners are negative, the risks of contracting herpes infection are eliminated. In cases where one partner has herpes and the other one does not, several methods can be used by both partners to prevent herpes infection in the partner who does not have the disease.
During an active herpes outbreak, people should avoid contact with the herpes sores, as the sores actively shed the virus and this is the primary method of herpes transmission. The easiest way to do this may be to abstain from sexual activity. Partners should be aware that herpes sores can spread virus to any area of the body; for example, oral-genital contact can result in the spread of herpes if sores are present on the mouth or genitals. If couples do want to engage in sexual activity while one partner is having an outbreak, barrier methods like condoms or dental dam should be used for all sexual contact, including kissing if sores are present on or around the mouth.
Medications like acyclovir can be used to suppress herpes outbreaks and viral shedding, reducing the risk of spreading herpes infection. People with herpes who take these medications should still alert their partners to their disease status, as the medications cannot completely prevent the spread of the disease, making it important for partners to be aware of the need to exercise precautions. Herpes infection can also occur when people experience so-called prodromal symptoms, in which no sores are present, but tingling and soreness indicate that an outbreak is about to occur.
Open disclosures about disease status at the start of a relationship are very important, and they can cut down on the risk of herpes infection and transmission of other sexually transmitted infections. Individuals with herpes should make sure that they are armed with informational pamphlets and other material when they discuss their disease status, so that their can provide their partners with accurate factual information about the risks and steps which can be taken to prevent herpes infection. People who know that they do not have herpes or other chronic sexually transmitted infections should be aware that many of these diseases are accompanied with stigma, and that honest disclosures of disease status should be treated with respect and support to encourage people to be open about the infections they carry.