Off Topic: Masssage and Herpes

Aug 16, 01:15 AM

As the popularity and availability of massage therapy increases, I've noticed a new type of massage client: the kind who doesn't understand massage etiquette. Sometimes this type of client is simply careless, but usually they're well educated people who are uninformed when it comes to contagious illness. They feel it is permissable to show up for a massage or bodywork appointment when infected with an active contagious skin condition. More and more of these clients are appearing in my practice and according to other bodyworkers, showing up on their tables, too.

In the past couple years, I've had clients appear in my office with poison ivy, shingles, oral and genital herpes, even MRSA. These conditions are highly contagious, not only to the massage therapist, but to any other clients they touch during the incubation period of the illness. Infection can occur not only from skin to skin contact, but from handling soiled linens hours later.

Herpes simplex should be of particular concern to bodyworkers, since a large percentage of the population is infected with this virus. Both type I (oral herpes) and type II (genital herpes) are for all practical purposes interchangeable, since either can appear on any part of the body.

Oral herpes is fairly obvious, but genital herpes presents a different set of problems. Many mistakenly believe this infection is restricted to the genital area, but in reality, it often spreads to the thighs, buttocks and lower abdomen. I've even seen it on the low back and hands of clients, who did not realize that their skin lesions were herpes. All of these areas are right in the path of a massage therapist's hands. The more experienced the therapist, the more likely they are to practice advanced modalities that contact areas such as the horizontal gluteal crease or the crease of the groin. This also leaves the therapist open to infection from genital herpes. It is important to note that in approximately 50% of all herpes cases, the virus is contracted when there are no obvious symptoms present.

All good massage therapists take a health history upon a client's first appointment, and this is the time to notify your therapist if you have herpes, as well as the location where the lesions normally appear and the frequency of outbreaks. Your therapist may choose to work these areas gloved, even when there is no outbreak present. If you have an active outbreak, you need to cancel your appointment and reschedule for a later date when the blisters have developed a crust and are beginning to heal, which is generally felt to be a non-contagious stage of infection.

Some clients avoid mentioning herpes because they feel potentially embarrassed by it. A professional bodyworker is used to discussing such subjects, does not judge the client, and is ethically bound to keep all health information private. It is always advisable to share pertinent health information rather than risk infecting others, especially when an infection can destroy someone's career.

Having herpes does not mean that you may never enjoy a healing massage. It does mean that you need to have open and honest communication with your therapist, who'll welcome the opportunity for discussion, which will put both of you at ease.


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