What causes herpes?

Genital and oral herpes can both be caused by an infection of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2).HSV-2 is the most common cause of genital herpes and HSV-1 is the most common cause of oral herpes.

Herpes viruses are passed from one person to another during sexual contact that involves touching of the mouth or genitals, or vaginal or anal sex. Oral sex can spread genital herpes to the mouth or transmit oral herpes to the genitals. Oral herpes can also be spread by kissing and other activities in which you are exposed to the mucous membranes or saliva of a person with oral herpes.

Any person who engages in sexual activity can contract and pass on a herpes infection, including heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual men and women. The more sexual partners a person has, the greater the risk of catching a herpes infection. It’s important to know that herpes can be spread between people even when no blisters or symptoms are present. Once herpes is diagnosed, sexual partners should be notified and appropriately treated.

The herpes simplex virus can also be passed from an infected mother to her newborn during vaginal delivery. This type of infection travels to the nervous system and can have devastating consequences.

What are the risk factors for herpes?

Certain factors increase herpes infection risks. These include:

  • Born to a mother with active genital herpes during pregnancy or delivery

  • Compromised immune system because of medications and chemotherapy, or conditions such as HIV/AIDS

  • Direct exposure to the saliva or mucous membranes of a person with oral herpes

  • Female (although men are also at risk)

  • History of another sexually transmitted disease (STD)

  • Unprotected sex, including vaginal, oral or anal sex

Reducing your risk of herpes

Herpes is preventable and is most contagious during an outbreak when blisters or lesions are present. Not everyone at risk will develop herpes, but you can lower your risk of contracting and spreading herpes by:

  • Abstaining from kissing and sexual activity until all blisters and lesions have completely healed

  • Engaging in sexual activities only within a mutually monogamous relationship, in which neither partner is infected with herpes or has its risk factors

  • Getting regular, routine medical care

  • Not sharing items exposed to the mouth, such as drinking glasses, silverware, toothbrushes, or mouth guards

  • Seeking medical care as soon as possible after possible exposure to herpes or after high-risk sexual activity

  • Seeking prenatal care early and regularly during pregnancy

  • Using latex condoms properly

  • Using proper hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing


What is herpes?

Herpes is a term that generally refers to a family of viral infections characterized by painful, fluid-filled sores or blisters in and around the mouth or genital region. Herpes is also called herpes simplex, which includes two types:


What are the symptoms of herpes?

Symptoms of herpes simplex infection vary among individuals. Both men and women with herpes may have vague or mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Many, but not all, people with herpes have recurring outbreaks of symptoms during a period of months to years. Recurrences are generally milder in nature and do not last as long as the initial outbreak. Herpes recurrences appear at the same location ... Read more about herpessymptoms


How is herpes treated?

There is no cure for herpes, but prompt diagnosis and treatment can help reduce or delay the onset of serious complications, improve the quality of life, and minimize the spread of the disease to others. You can best manage genital herpes by consistently following your treatment plan, which generally includes medications and other treatments.

Antiretroviral medications for her... Read more about herpestreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2013 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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