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What Are the Causes of Herpes?

Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV, one affecting the mouth and another affecting the genitals. The virus can be transmitted through close contact with an infected person.

Types of Herpes

There are two types of HSV:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which causes oral herpes (also known as cold sores).
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), which causes genital herpes.

HSV-1 is very common. Infections often occur during childhood, and most people in the U.S. are infected with oral herpes by age 20.

HSV-2 is also widespread but less common than HSV-1. More than one of out six people ages 14 to 49 are infected with the virus. Genital herpes is more common in women than in men.

Herpes can cause small, painful blisters to develop around the mouth or genitals. However, many people who are infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2 never experience any symptoms.

How Herpes Spreads

HSV-1 is highly contagious and spreads through close contact with an infected person. It can spread through kissing or even sharing towels, utensils, razors, or other personal items with someone who has the virus. HSV-1 usually leads to cold sores that develop on and around the lips. However, it can also spread to the genitals during oral sex.

HSV-2 usually spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It’s not as contagious as HSV-1, so you can’t get it from toilet seats, towels, soap, or other personal items.

Both types of herpes can spread even when the affected person isn’t experiencing symptoms.

Herpes Treatment

There is no cure for either type of herpes infection. However, healthcare providers can prescribe antiviral medications to help shorten or prevent outbreaks.

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