Herpes Simplex Virus

Herpes Simplex Virus

Herpes simplex is a common viral infection. If you’ve ever had a cold sore or fever blister, you picked up the herpes simplex virus. Most cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Other names for cold sores caused by HSV-1 are:

  • Oral herpes
  • Mouth herpes
  • Herpes simplex labialis

A closely related herpes simplex virus, HSV-2, causes most cases of genital herpes. But either HSV-1 or HSV-2 can cause a herpes sore on the face or genitals.

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. These people:

  • 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.”

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