If you or someone you care about is concerned that they may have herpes, then you know that it can be a very worrisome time with a long list of questions. What makes it even more difficult is that you might be hearing conflicting and confusing information.

Several types of Herpes

This is confusing for everyone because there are several subtypes of the Herpes virus, known as Herpes Simples Virus (HSV), including the types that cause oral herpes outbreaks, genital herpes, chickenpox and shingles.

Oral herpes (HSV – 1)

  • This is the type of herpes that is usually found on the mouth or nose.
  • This causes painful blisters and sores that crust over and may be present for a few weeks.
  • The virus can be present in the body for years and not cause symptoms to appear.
  • Many people do not know they have the virus
  • You don’t need to have an active cold sore to transmit the virus
  • HSV – 1 can also be spread to the genitals through oral sex
  • About 50% of people in the US and approximately 65% of people worldwide have HSV -1 present in their body
  • The average frequency of outbreaks depends upon the person’s immune system and may occur from 1-4 times/year

What this all means is that lots of people have HSV -1, not everyone knows they have it and they may be shedding the virus through perfectly normal looking skin and infect someone else. This is how we think most of the transmission occurs.

Oral Herpes is very contagious, and is spread by:

  • Kissing and any mouth to mouth contact
  • Oral sex
  • Sharing cups or eating utensils
  • Sharing lipstick, lip balm
  • Sharing razors or towels or anything that has come into contact with a sore

When it comes to Oral Sex

If you know you have Oral Herpes (HSV – 1) from symptoms or from a blood test, then you CAN’T get also HSV – 1 on your genitals from oral sex with another person, because you already have the antibody to it in your body.

That means that if you already have HSV – 1, then receiving oral sex from a partner who also has it, will not result in you getting HSV – 1 in and around the genitals.

However, you if you don’t have the antibody to HSV – 1 and are receiving oral sex from someone who has Oral herpes, even if they have no symptoms, then you can become infected.

And remember, regardless of whether you have HSV – 1 or not, you’re still at risk for acquiring Genital Herpes (HSV – 2) on your genitals from partners who have it. This is why testing is a good idea before you become intimate with someone. (link to blog post on testing for herpes)

Genital Herpes (HSV – 2)

  • This is the type of herpes that is most often found around the genitals
  • This causes painful blisters and sores that crust over and may be present for a few weeks.
  • The virus can be present in the body for years and not cause symptoms to appear.
  • Most people with HSV – 2 do not know they have the virus
  • You don’t need to have any symptoms to transmit the virus
  • HSV – 2 is rarely found above the belt and doesn’t usually cause oral symptoms
  • As we get older and have more possible exposures, we’re more likely to acquire genital herpes
  • The percentage of people who have genital herpes depends upon where you live and the number of partners you’ve had.
  • In general about 20 – 40% of people in the US have HSV – 2 present in their body
  • People with HSV – 2 are at a higher risk of contracting HIV

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