Learn what you need to know about treating these common infections.
  • Vaginal infection
  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal infection
  • Viral infections
  • Staph infections
 

 
 

 

Herpes Overview

Herpes is caused by two viruses, which are highly contagious infections that usually affect the mouth or genital area. The two types of viruses that cause herpes are herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2). Research shows that 90% of the population has been exposed to oral herpes (HSV-1), and 25% of the population between the ages of 25-45 in the United States has been exposed to genital herpes (HSV-2).

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) (oral herpes)
Herpes simplex 1 is the most common herpes simplex virus, and is the one that is responsible for cold sores. The infection usually affects the lips, mouth, and face, but can sometimes cause genital herpes through transmission during oral-genital sex, though it is not classified as a sexually transmitted disease. Generally, HSV-1 is transmitted by contact with infected saliva, usually during kissing, or by eating and drinking from contaminated utensils.

Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) (genital herpes)
Herpes simplex 2 is sexually transmitted. It usually affects the genital area, but the oral area may also be affected because it can be transmitted to the mouth during oral-genital sex. The virus is spread through secretions from the oral or genital mucosa. Some people who have herpes simplex 2 do not show symptoms, which contributes to the spread of the disease.

Herpes is a common and usually mild recurrent skin condition, so most infections are unrecognized and undiagnosed. If you develop symptoms that appear to be herpes infection, contact your health care provider for a diagnosis.

An estimated 86 million people worldwide are thought to have genital herpes.

Herpes simplex types 1 (oral) and 2 (genital) each carry their own risk specific factors. Each is a separate virus and is different. Having one virus does not mean you will have another.

Risk factors for herpes simplex 1 (oral herpes):

  • Contact with infected saliva, usually through a kiss
  • Sharing shaving razors
  • Using utensils, straws, or other shared products with an infected person
  • Occasionally genital herpes may spread to oral herpes during oral-to-genital contact
Risk factors for herpes simplex 2 (genital herpes):
  • Unprotected oral or genital sex
  • Vaginal delivery of a newborn by an infected mother may transmit the virus
Herpes is a very fragile virus and does not live long on surfaces, so it s nearly impossible to contract herpes from a toilet seat, bathtub, or towel.

About 50% to 80% of the adult population in the United States has oral herpes, commonly called cold sores or fever blisters, with as many as 90% having the virus by age 50. Of those who have oral herpes, most contracted the virus when they are children by receiving a kiss from a friend or relative.

About one in five persons in the United States has genital herpes. But alarmingly, as much as 90% of people with genital herpes are unaware that they have the virus. Therefore, it is important to always use a latex condom (no spermicide) during sex.