Causes of Herpes

Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and Herpes Simplex Virus 2 are the causes of herpes. Both of these viruses (also referred to as HSV-1 and HSV-2) are highly contagious pathogens and are transmitted through physical contact with an infected individual. Whether you have been infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2, you will experience similar genital herpes symptoms, but there are still important reasons why you should learn which virus you are carrying.

How are they different?

Of the two strains of herpes viruses, the Herpes Simplex 2 virus (usually transmitted during sexual intercourse) has historically been viewed as the culprit in genital herpes, while it was believed that the Herpes Simplex 1 virus was responsible only for cold sores in and around the mouth. Research findings from recent years suggest that this is not entirely accurate, however.

A growing number of new genital herpes patients have been found to be infected with only the HSV-1 virus. Researchers point to this trend as proof that the HSV-1 virus can not only be transmitted to another individual’s mouth and face through kissing, but to the genitals, as well, through oral sex.

Although both viral causes of herpes produce the same symptoms in genital herpes sufferers, the viruses are quite different at a genetic level. For this reason, medication prescribed to treat HSV-1 is ineffective on HSV-2 infections, and vice versa.

How are they the same?

Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and Herpes Simplex Virus 2 create the same symptoms when an infected individual is experiencing a genital herpes outbreak. Both are causes of herpes blisters, burning, tingling, swollen glands, and all of the other symptoms typically associated with an infection.

Unfortunately, they also share a similarity in that neither HSV-1 nor HSV-2 is curable. Once infected, you will carry these viruses and be capable of spreading them for the rest of your life. With accurate diagnosis, however, both can be treated to reduce the likelihood and duration of future outbreaks.

Finally, both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are extremely common. It is estimated that 45 million Americans are currently infected with the HSV-2 virus, while another 100 million are carrying the HSV-1 strain of herpes. Despite the viruses proliferation, it is estimated that as much as 80% of the infected population is unaware that they carry the disease.

How can I protect myself and others?

Whether you already have genital herpes, or are in a relationship with someone who does, educating yourself about the causes of herpes is just one important step of many that you should take. Regular use of condoms, practicing monogamy (or, in the very least, limiting your number of sexual partners), and abstaining from sexual intercourse when you or your partner is showing signs of a herpes outbreak are all proven methods of preventing the disease from spreading.