Herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus, or HSV. It can cause cold sores on the mouth or face, which is called oral herpes, or it can cause symptoms around the genitals, buttocks, and thighs, which is referred to as genital herpes. Dr. Patel, can you tell us more?
Certainly, Dr. Mayzik. There are two types of HSV that can cause genital herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is the strain that's also responsible for oral herpes. HSV-2, on the other hand, only causes genital herpes.
HSV spreads through direct contact with herpes lesions, mucous membranes, genital secretions, or saliva. HSV-1 and HSV-2 can also be shed from skin around the mouth and genitals that appears to have no lesions. This means that herpes can be transmitted whether symptoms are present or not.
Oral herpes can be passed through kissing or oral sex. If a person with oral herpes performs oral sex, it's possible to transmit the infection to their partner's genitals. Anyone who is sexually active can get genital herpes. Genital herpes can also be passed from a woman to her child during pregnancy or childbirth.
In the United States, it's estimated that around one in eight people between the ages of 14 and 49 are infected with HSV-2. Experts believe that almost 90 percent of those infected, however, are unaware that they have the virus.
HSV-2 infection is more common among women than men because the virus is more easily transmitted from a man to a woman than from a woman to a man during penile-vaginal sex.
Genital herpes is closely linked with HIV risk. The lesions caused by a herpes infection make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV through sexual contact. In addition, having genital herpes increases the number of T-cells, the cells targeted by HIV, in the mucous membranes around the genital area. It's estimated that having genital herpes increases a person's risk of acquiring HIV by two to four times.