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Q&A: HSV and HIV, Oh My!

October 29, 2013
G. Starr Vidal, Contributor for The CSPH

hivqandaEach week, The CSPH answers questions asked on our site and through social media outlets like Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. This week we address several short questions related to sexually-transmitted infections.

I was diagnosed with HSV2 2 years ago. It was a huge shock and emotionally scarring. I have since developed anxiety and phobia about HIV. I’ve been tested 2x in the last 2 yrs, donate blood, and am in one of the lowest risk categories. I know they are not alike, their prevalence is not alike, and I was present when my current partner tested negative. So, I KNOW I don’t have HIV but I can’t seem to stop obsessing/having panic attacks about it. What’s wrong with me?

To begin, I want to say that I am sorry that you’re having a difficult time.  Contracting a sexually transmitted infection can be a shocking, difficult experience for many people.  While there is nothing shameful about STI transmission, popular culture would certainly have us believing otherwise, so it’s no wonder anyone would find themselves feeling emotionally scarred.

To answer your question: there is nothing “wrong” with you.  As I previously stated, contracting an STI can be an incredibly difficult experience for people to navigate and eventually come to terms with.  As such, I see your paranoia regarding contracting HIV as a transference of your anxiety about having contracted herpes. To put it another way,  it may be the case that your fear has less to do with HIV specifically, but rather, is the STI your mind latched onto due to your feelings regarding having contracted HSV – perhaps you feel a loss of bodily autonomy and/or control, for example?

In order to help battle your anxiety and paranoia, I recommend that you visit a mental health professional who is well-versed in navigating STIs without bias or shame. Hopefully, a sex therapist will work with you to get to the root of your fear, thereby allowing you to be less anxious moving forward.

What should you do if you’ve had unprotected sex with an HIV+ person?

In short: visit your healthcare provider and/or a local, trained HIV counselor.

The longer answer varies depending on how long it’s been since you had unprotected sex with someone who is HIV-positive, and whether you and that individual had unprotected sex with full awareness of your sex partner’s seropositivity.  If it’s within 36 hours of exposure, you have the option of taking medication that may reduce the chance of or prevent you from contracting HIV.  These medications are called Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it is recommended that they be taken as soon as two hours following potential exposure.

If it’s been longer than a few days since you’ve had unprotected sex with someone who is HIV-positive, it is still recommended that you visit a healthcare provider to discuss your options.  In the vast majority of cases, HIV antibodies are present within the bloodstream by three months following exposure.  Also, depending on your location and financial resources, you may be able to receive an RNA test, which detects HIV as soon as 9 to 11 days following exposure.

In the meanwhile, I recommend that you use barrier methods (condoms and dental dams) during every and all sexual activity, and that you minimize the risk of further transmitting HIV by minimizing risky behaviors, such as by not sharing needles.

Can you get herpes from used chapstick? How long can these viruses live outside the body anyway?

Since HSV I and II are contracted through mucous membranes, of which the mouth is one, it is in fact possible, although unlikely, to contract herpes from used chapstick.  Similarly, one can contract herpes through sharing drinks with someone who has HSV – this, along with familial kissing, is a common cause of HSV contraction among children.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that HSV only lasts for approximately 10 seconds outside of the human body, and only slightly longer in warm, damp places.  Thus, while it is possible to contract HSV by sharing used lip products, it is actually quite unlikely – much like STI transmission through toilet seats, a common urban legend.

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