My friend Jane is VERY worried and mad at herself because she thinks she may have oral herpes.  She had heavy kissing once with someone who has gotten fever blisters but did not when they were kissing. I want to tell her not to worry because her chances are one in ?.  I read there is a 5 to 10 percent chance someone with the virus is a shedder.  But what are Jane’s chances of catching the virus from this one encounter?

Unfortunately, we can’t know someone’s exact chances of getting an STD, just like we can’t know someone’s exact chances of getting a cold or flu. What we do know is that certain types of sexual and skin-to-skin contact increase your chances of getting an STD, and using protection (like condoms and dental dams) lowers those chances a lot.

Oral and genital herpes stays in the body for life and is most easily transmitted during an “outbreak” – when someone with herpes has sores or blisters you can see. All people who have oral or genital herpes will also have “shedding,” when there are no symptoms but herpes can still be spread.  But it’s impossible to know when shedding occurs for each person, how much someone sheds, or how contagious they are – it’s different for everybody.

If Jane kissed someone who has ever had fever blisters (a nickname for oral herpes), there is a chance she was exposed to the virus.  But if that person didn’t have blisters or other symptoms at the time, it’s a lot less likely she got herpes.  However, if she notices painful sores or blisters on or around her mouth in the future, she should see a nurse or doctor right away.

Herpes is very common (up to 8 out of 10 American adults have oral herpes, and 1 in 4 have genital herpes). If Jane did get it, she can talk with a nurse or doctor about ways to prevent outbreaks and make them less painful.

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