Impetigo + oral sex = genital herpes?

Hey Alice!

I was recently diagnosed with impetigo & was wondering if I had oral sex with my boyfriend if he'd get genital herpes. Thanks!

— kitten xx

Dear kitten xx,

The quick answer is nope! If you have been diagnosed with impetigo, oral sex with your boyfriend could transmit the impetigo to him but it won’t cause genital herpes. While impetigo is a contagious skin infection, it's caused by bacteria (either staphylococcus or streptococcus strain) while herpes simplex virus (both type 1 and type 2) are caused by viral infections. It’s true that both of these skin infections are contagious and can be passed on by sexual contact, but impetigo infections can’t cause herpes outbreaks and vice versa.

Time to chat a bit more about impetigo: it's a highly contagious skin infection, one that is often seen in babies and children. The infection will usually appear as red sores on the face, often clustering around the nose and mouth, and when they burst the sores develop yellow or honey-colored crusts after a few days. Unless the condition clears up on its own (typically in a couple of weeks), a health care provider will likely prescribe an antibiotic to accelerate healing and limit how contagious the condition is. There are also different types of impetigo, such as bullous impetigo and ecthyma. Bullous impetigo is a different, less common form of the disease, which will appear as larger blisters on the trunk or groin area. Ecthyma is a more severe form impetigo and causes painful fluid or pus-filled sores that can become ulcers deep in the skin (this type happens more commonly in older adults with diabetes or a compromised immune system).

Impetigo is transmitted by touching the sores of an infected person or by coming into contact with items that they've touched such as clothing, linen, towels, or in the case of children (or big kids at heart), toys. Impetigo can start because bacteria have gotten into a small cut or insect bite, or even a scratch on the skin. However, there is no need to fret, as impetigo is curable with antibiotics and will likely go away within a week given you've received proper treatment. However, while impetigo isn't usually severe, sometimes there are complications. For example, ecthyma has been known to cause scars and certain types of the Streptococcal bacterial infections that cause impetigo can also cause kidney damage.

Herpes, on the other hand, is transmitted by the viruses HSV-1, HSV-2, or the herpes varicellus-zoster virus. Herpes is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact similar to impetigo. However, unlike impetigo, it’s pretty unlikely that just sharing a towel or t-shirt with someone that is infected will lead to contracting the virus. While there’s no cure for herpes, medication can help manage outbreaks.

Until the bacteria causing the impetigo infection has been eradicated, the condition is highly contagious, so it might be best for you and your boyfriend to take a break from sexual contact until then.

Here’s to a speedy healing so you can go back to playing like the kitten you are!

Last updated Oct 29, 2021
Originally published Aug 15, 2014

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