Confused About HSV-1 and HSV-2

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If you’re confused about the two different types of herpes, you’re not alone.

Type 1 herpes (HSV-1) often causes cold sores or blisters around the mouth…most often around the border of the lips. When HSV-1 shows up on the mouth area, it’s referred to as oral herpes. In fact, many people get infected with HSV-1 during childhood through light mouth-to-mouth contact, such as an infected relative kissing you when you were young.

In other words, HSV-1 isn’t necessarily a sexually transmitted disease, but rather a disease that can be easily transmitted through skin-to-skin sor mouth-to-mouth contact… especially when sores or blisters are present. However, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes which is most commonly spread when someone who has HSV-1 on the mouth performs oral sex on his or her partner.

After an initial outbreak, HSV-1 genital herpes outbreaks tend to recur less frequently over time, compared to type 2 (HSV-2) genital herpes… but you might continue to have symptoms or flares intermittently. If you see any sores on your genitals, I urge you to see your regular doctor in order to confirm your herpes diagnosis and treatment plan (if any). Condoms can reduce your risk of spreading the virus to others, but it’s important to remember that herpes is also spread through skin-to-skin contact… a condom or dental dam only covers part of the genital area, so there’s still a risk of transmitting the virus.

According to the CDC, about one out of every six people have genital herpes, but most of them don’t know they’re infected because they either have mild symptoms or no symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get tested, so you know your status. If you test positive, you can take steps to avoid infecting others…and you’ll be able to avoid potentially serious complications from herpes down the road by getting proper treatment with antiviral medications, if needed.

Bottom line? While HSV-1 most commonly causes oral herpes and HSV-2 most commonly causes genital herpes, you can have either virus in either place (your genitals or your mouth area). I recommend type-specific testing if you’re worried that you may have been exposed to genital herpes.

Also, keep in mind that if you or your partner is pregnant, genital herpes can be harmful to the baby… especially in the last trimester. For that reason, be cautious about any activity that could lead to transmitting either HSV-1 or HSV-2 herpes during late pregnancy.

If you already have herpes and you’re pregnant, check with your regular doctor to be sure you’re doing everything possible to keep your baby safe. With open communication and a little planning, you and your baby should be fine

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