Herpes is an infection that is caused by a herpes simplex virus (HSV). Oral herpes causes cold sores around the mouth or face. Genital herpes affects the genitals, buttocks or anal area. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It affects the genitals, buttocks or anal area. Other herpes infections can affect the eyes, skin, or other parts of the body. The virus can be dangerous in newborn babies or in people with weak immune systems.
There are two types of HSV:
HSV type 1 most commonly causes cold sores. It can also cause genital herpes.
HSV type 2 is the usual cause of genital herpes, but it also can infect the mouth. HSV spreads direct contact. Some people have no symptoms. Others get sores near the area where the virus has entered the body. They turn into blisters, become itchy and painful, and then heal. Most people have outbreaks several times a year. Over time, you get them less often. Medicines to help your body fight the virus can help lessen symptoms and decrease outbreaks.
Who gets herpes simplex?
Most people get HSV-1 (herpes simplex type 1) as an infant or child. This virus can be spread by skin-to-skin contact with an adult who carries the virus. An adult does not have to have sores to spread the virus.
A person usually gets HSV-2 (herpes simplex type 2) through sexual contact. About 20% of sexually active adults in the United States
carry HSV-2. Some people are more likely to get HSV-2.
- Are female
- Have had many sex partners
- Had sex for the first time at a young age
- Have (or had) another sexually transmitted infection
- Have a weakened immune system due to a disease or medicine
What causes herpes simplex?
Herpes simplex viruses spread from person to person through close contact. You can get a herpes simplex virus from touching a herpes sore. Most people, however, get herpes simplex from an infected person who does not have sores. Doctors call this “asymptomatic viral shedding.”
How people get herpes around their mouth?
A person with HSV-1 (herpes simplex type 1) can pass it to someone else by:
- Touching the person’s skin, such as pinching a child’s cheek
- Sharing objects such as silverware, lip balm, or a razor
How people get herpes on their genitals
You can get genital herpes after coming into contact with HSV-1 or HSV-2. Most people get genital herpes from HSV-2, which they get during sex. If someone has a cold sore and performs oral sex, this can spread HSV-1 to the genitals — and cause herpes sores on the genitals.
Mothers can give the herpes virus to their baby during childbirth. If the baby is born during the mother's first episode of genital herpes, the baby can have serious problems.
What happens once you have HSV-1 or HSV-2?
Once a person becomes infected with a herpes virus, the virus never leaves the body. After the first outbreak, the virus moves from the skin cells to nerve cells. The virus stays in the nerve cells forever. But it usually just stays there. In this stage, the virus is said to be dormant, or asleep. But it can become active again.
Some things that can trigger (wake up) the virus are:
- Sun exposure
- Menstrual periods