The herpes simplex virus, also known as HSV, is an infection that causes herpes. Herpes can appear in various parts of the body, most commonly on the genitals or mouth. There are two types of the herpes simplex virus. HSV-1, also known as oral herpes, can cause cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth and on the face. HSV-2 is generally responsible for genital herpes outbreaks.
The herpes simplex virus is a contagious virus that can be passed from person to person through direct contact. Children will often contract HSV-1 from early contact with an infected adult. They then carry the virus with them for the rest of their life.
Infection with HSV-1 can happen from general interactions such as eating from the same utensils, sharing lip balm, or kissing. The virus spreads more quickly when an infected person is experiencing an outbreak. Additionally, it is possible to get genital herpes from HSV-1 if the individual has had cold sores and performed sexual activities during that time.
HSV-2 is contracted through forms of sexual contact with a person who has HSV-2. It is estimated that around 20 percent of sexually active adults within the United States have been infected with HSV-2, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). (AAD) While HSV-2 infections are spread by coming into contact with a herpes sore, the AAD reports that most people get HSV-1 from an infected person who is asymptomatic, or does not have sores.
Anyone can be infected with HSV, regardless of age. Your risk is determined almost entirely based on exposure to the infection.
In cases of sexually transmitted HSV, people are more at risk when they participate in risky sexual behavior without the use of protection, such as condoms. Other risk factors for HSV-2 include:
If a mother is having an outbreak of genital herpes at the time of childbirth, it can expose the baby to both types of HSV, and may put them at risk for serious complications. : Symptoms
It is important to understand that although someone may not have visible sores or symptoms, they may still be infected by the virus and may transmit the virus to others. Some of the symptoms associated with this virus include:
Additionally, you may experience many symptoms that are similar to the flu. These symptoms can include fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, tiredness, and lack of appetite. HSV can also spread to the eyes, causing a condition called herpes keratitis. This can cause symptoms such as eye pain, discharge, and a gritty feeling in the eye.
This type of virus is generally diagnosed with a physical exam. Your doctor may check your body for sores and ask you about some of your current symptoms. Your doctor may also request HSV testing, also known as a herpes culture, to confirm the diagnosis if you have sores on your genitals. During this test, your doctor will take a swab sample of fluid from the sore and then send it to a laboratory for testing.
Blood tests looking for antibodies to HSV-1 and HSV-2 may also be used to diagnose these infections. This is especially helpful when there are no sores present.
Herpes at a Glance
Want to get tested for herpes?Find a Health Center
- A very common sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Can affect the mouth (oral herpes) or genitals (genital herpes)
- Easily spread with or without symptoms
- Treatment available for herpes symptoms
- There are ways to reduce your risk of getting herpes
STDs are very common. But we can protect ourselves and each other from STDs like herpes. Learning more about herpes is an important first step.
Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about herpes. We hope you find the answers helpful, whether you think you may have herpes, have been diagnosed with it, or are just curious about it.