The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is categorized into two types: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes, and HSV-2 causes most genital herpes.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 is highly contagious and very common. It can spread as a result of close contact with people already living with HSV, even if they aren’t showing any symptoms. Many people become infected as children.
Typically, people living with HSV-1 don’t develop symptoms. However, the virus might cause oral herpes (also known as cold sores) to form on and around the mouth. While cold sores can be painful and annoying, they typically go away on their own within about two weeks. HSV-1 can also spread to the genital area through oral sex. Genital herpes caused by HSV-1 is usually mild and does not recur frequently.
Although herpes simplex virus type 2 is also widespread, it’s not as common as HSV-1. HSV-2 is transmitted through genital-to-genital contact with an infected person. As with HSV-1, the virus can spread even if the affected individual isn’t showing signs of infection.
Many people with HSV-2 don’t know they have it because they don’t experience any symptoms. When an outbreak occurs, sores develop around the area of the body where the virus was transmitted. These sores typically take a week or so to heal.
Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are lifelong infections with no cure, but prescription antiviral medications can prevent outbreaks and reduce symptoms. Some people who have herpes experience repeated outbreaks, while others never know they have it.