Herpes

Herpes is caused by a virus: the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is in a family of viruses called herpesviruses. This family includes Epstein-Barr virus, the cause of mono; and varicella zoster, the cause of chicken pox and shingles. Although there are several viruses in the herpes virus family, each are separate viruses and different from one another.

There are two types of herpes simplex; herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2). HSV is a common and usually mild recurrent skin condition. HSV can cause oral herpes (cold sores or fever blisters on the mouth or facial area) as well as genital herpes (similar symptoms in the genital region). The majority of oral herpes or herpes labialis cases are caused by HSV-1 and the majority of genital herpes cases are caused by HSV-2; however, both type-1 and type-2 can occur in the genitals, oral area or both.

Any person who is sexually active can get genital herpes. Herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. This occurs when a contagious area comes into contact with a mucous membrane, primarily the mouth and genitals. Most skin on the body is too thick for the virus to go through. If a person with oral herpes performs oral sex, it is possible for the partner to get genital herpes. If a person with genital herpes has sex, it is possible for his or her partner to get genital herpes. Herpes can be transmitted when there are no symptoms present. There are several days throughout the year (called asymptomatic reactivation, asymptomatic shedding or subclinical shedding) when a person can be contagious without having a symptom. There are no documented cases of a person getting genital herpes from an inanimate object such as a toilet seat, bathtub or towel. Herpes is a very fragile virus and does not live long on surfaces.

While some people realize that they have genital herpes, many do not and most are unaware. This is because many people have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Because symptoms can vary a great deal, we recommend that an individual see a health care provider to obtain a culture of the symptom. A person may show symptoms within days after contracting genital herpes, or it may take weeks, months or years. Some people may have a severe outbreak within days after contracting the virus while others may have a first outbreak so mild that they do not notice it. It can be difficult for people to know when and from whom they may have contracted the virus.

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