Family Forum: Sexually Transmitted Infections

Wondering about contracting herpes from past partners.


I was in a relationship 15 years ago but never with anyone else until four years ago. My question is, could I have gotten herpes from the partner 15 years ago or the partner four years ago?


The simple answer is that it could be either partner, and this is for many reasons. Most sexually active Australians carry some form of the herpes simplex virus. There are two types, type 1 and type 2.

Herpes simplex type 2 mainly causes genital herpes, but herpes simplex type 1 is also occasionally found in the genital area. Oral herpes is mainly caused by herpes simplex type 1, but again can occasionally be herpes simplex type 2.

When a person becomes infected they may develop small blisters called vesicles at the inoculation site, but sometimes the initial infection can be asymptomatic and therefore the person may not realise that an infection has occurred.

From the initial infection site, the virus retreats up the infected nerve fibre to lay dormant in the spine in a ganglion, which is a collection of nerve fibres. The virus remains there until it reactivates.

Man things can cause it to reactivate, such as ill-health, stress, trauma to the affected area and often, no apparent reason. Therefore the virus may lay dormant for years.

The only way of checking for the virus is by doing a blood test, to check for the antibody against the herpes simplex virus or by collecting fluid from a blister (when present) and finding the virus.

If the person with the infection does not have symptoms, they may not be aware that they have a herpes infection and therefore not get tested.

Due to this, many people have the virus and may not be aware of the fact they are transmitting it.

There is no cure yet, but your local GP can offer you treatments to suppress any outbreak or prevent outbreaks.

Stigma and embarrassment can be overcome with good information and/or a supportive partner, and by putting the problem in its proper context: as a skin disorder that can appear in the genital area.

For medical or counselling advice and support, contact SHINE SA ( phone 1300 883 793 or email

Submit Your Questions

Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

Have you got a question you’d like us to tackle?

Fill out the form below or send questions to Family Forum, The Advertiser, 31 Waymouth St, Adelaide 5000.

We treat communications in strict confidence except when the law demands otherwise, as in child abuse.

Use this form to submit a question to the Family Forum panel.