- There are two types of herpes: Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 (HSV-2).
- Genital herpes can cause painful sores.
- Herpes can be contracted in many ways including kissing, sharing straws, and having sex.
- There’s no cure for herpes but some medications can help with outbreaks.
For those who have it, herpes can be a sometimes painful condition that often carries a social stigma with it. However, the herpes virus is actually incredibly common.
According to the CDC, more than one out of every six people in the US between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes.
Furthermore, the World Health Organisation estimates that about 67% of people under the age of 50 around the globe already have the herpes simplex virus, also known as herpes Type 1.
INSIDER spoke with Dr. Damian Jacob Sendler, chief of the division of clinical research at Felnett Health Research Foundation, in order to answer some common questions about the herpes virus.
Are there different kinds of herpes?
There are two types of herpes: Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 (HSV-2).
“Type 1 is the less invasive kind of herpes, characterised by the appearance of mouth sores,” Dr. Sendler told INSIDER. People with Type 1 can also often experience pharyngitis, which is inflammation of the back of the throat.
“Type 2 is genital herpes, which causes the appearance of painful vesicles on or around the vagina or penis.”
Both forms of herpes are contagious and usually lead to the appearance of painful sores on the body.
What’s the most common way herpes is transmitted?
Any kind of contact with the secretions of someone with the virus can expose you to herpes. The contact doesn’t need to be sexual – it can be as simple as sharing a soda straw or kissing a family member on the cheek.
“That’s why our first encounter with Type 1 usually occurs in schools,” Dr. Sendler told INSIDER. “Kids touch their mouth that might have cold sores, then they touch common areas, and other kids get infected through touch.”
“The easiest way to get Type 1 is through kissing or contact with the sores,” he said. You might also be exposed to herpes Type 1 through sharing eating utensils, lip balm, towels, or razors.
According to Dr. Sendler, kissing or sexual contact are some of the most common ways that the herpes virus is contracted.
“For Type 2, sexual contact involving semen and touching the lesions can get the virus transferred to someone’s system,” Dr. Sendler told INSIDER.
Using a latex condom can help reduce your risk of contracting herpes during sex. However, since condoms do not cover the entire genital region and the herpes virus can be released from parts of the skin that do not have visible herpes lesions, it is still possible to get herpes while using a condom.
Can you get herpes from oral or anal sex?
It’s a myth that you don’t have to worry about contracting herpes from oral or anal sex. Having any kind of sexual contact with someone experiencing an active herpes infection puts you at risk of exposure.
“Oral sex is most effective, especially when someone has poor hygiene and allowed the sores to ooze and crust over the skin, creating an area of infection,” Dr. Sendler explained.
Can you get genital herpes without having sex?
Contrary to what you might have heard, a person can have genital herpes without ever having had sex.
For example, Dr. Sendler explained that infants delivered vaginally by individuals with an active genital herpes infection are at risk of contracting herpes Type 2. This is because babies exiting the birth canal may come into direct contact with herpes lesions.
What are the most common signs of herpes?
According to Dr. Sendler, the most common sign that you may have a herpes infection is visible blisters around your mouth or genitals. It’s also possible that you might experience systemic symptoms such as fever or fatigue.
“Most people come to see the doctor and say ‘I have some painful sores’ and it’s almost always the sign of Type 1 or 2 herpes, depending on location,” Dr. Sendler told INSIDER.
Can you have herpes without ever experiencing symptoms?
It’s very possible that you may already have the herpes virus inside you, even if you’ve never experienced any obvious symptoms.
“The virus quickly integrates with our body cells and can live undisturbed until our immunity fails, either due to prolonged illness or immunodeficiency, becoming reactivated again,” Dr. Sendler said.
The absence of sores or blisters doesn’t mean that you haven’t been exposed to the virus.
As Dr. Sendler explained, “the appearance of blisters will be different among people, depending on everyone’s unique genetic and physiological predisposition to manifest symptoms of specific diseases.
This means that the sudden appearance of sores around your mouth or genitals should lead you to make an appointment with your doctor, even if you haven’t experienced any recent sexual contact with someone who could have had the virus.
What’s the difference between herpes and cold sores?
You may have heard that cold sores and herpes are related, but what’s the actual connection between those annoying spots and the herpes virus?
“It’s basically the same thing. Just a different name,” Dr. Sendler clarified.
Cold sores are generally caused by herpes Type 1. Though they often present around the mouth, some people can also get them on the nose or fingers.
“Some also call cold sores ‘fever sores,’ as they might appear more easily when we’re sick and our body is weaker with fighting infections,” Dr. Sendler told INSIDER.
According to WebMD, about 90% of people experience at least one cold sore at some point in their life. Although some people actually develop antibodies after the first infection and never experience a recurrence, around 40% of US adults have had more than one cold sore episode.
Is there a cure for herpes?
Unfortunately, there is currently no permanent cure for herpes Type 1 or Type 2. Although the condition can usually be treated and outbreaks can be greatly minimized for many people, Dr. Sendler explained that some viral strains are resistant to drugs.
“This is why every patient needs to monitor the recurrence of herpes and attend to treatment right away. For some people, it might be necessary to take antiviral medications for an extended period of time to kill off any sub-strains of the virus that have been resistant to treatment,” he told INSIDER.
What are some factors that make you more likely to get herpes?
Dr. Sendler advised that when it comes to contracting herpes, there are no specific risk factors other than contact with secretions.
For oral herpes, Dr. Sendler stated that most new infections can be put down to “bad luck.”
In the case of genital herpes or herpes Type 2, sexual contact with someone who has the virus is the primary means of exposure. This means that not knowing the sexual health status of your sexual partners might make you more likely to be exposed.
“If someone doesn’t tell us they’re fighting it, we are likely to get it,” Dr. Sendler told INSIDER.
Will antibiotics help herpes?
Dr. Sendler cautioned that because antibiotics treat bacterial infections and herpes is a virus-based problem, you should not take antibiotics for a herpes outbreak. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily can cause unpleasant side effects and may reduce their effectiveness for you and others in the future by contributing to general antibiotic resistance.
Although there may not be a cure for herpes, there are drugs that can prevent or shorten outbreaks. It’s best to talk to your doctor to figure out what might work best for you.
How can you avoid getting herpes?
If you’re looking to safeguard yourself against herpes, Dr. Sendler said that there isn’t a perfect solution to avoiding the virus.
“Unfortunately, there is no easy way to prevent getting herpes, other than primary prevention of avoiding contact with the lesions. Thankfully, most people don’t get herpes just by being next to someone who has it.”
“When it comes to genital herpes, it is worth glancing at someone’s penis or vagina to check for signs of ‘pimples,'” he added.
He said using a condom and taking steps to determine the sexual health of any prospective partners can help you reduce your chances of being exposed to the virus.
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