Herpes Simplex Virus: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options

HSV-1 can be contracted from general interactions such as hugging, kissing, or even breastfeeding. Sexual contact, the sharing of razors or toothbrushes, and even sharing a bathroom sink can all spread the disease.

Humans get HSV from direct contact with an infected person’s saliva or saliva from areas of the body touched by an infected person. In other words, herpes simplex virus spreads through contact.

HSV-1 and HSV-2 are among the viruses responsible for the common cold. Both are spread by sharing of surfaces (like toothbrushes and razors) and through touch.

Symptoms of herpes simplex

One of the most common symptoms of herpes simplex is pain and swelling of the lip. The more common symptoms include painful blisters on the mouth, mouth and lip, or around the eyes, mouth and lips.

Sores can become infected because the virus becomes trapped in tiny gaps or openings, such as the folds of skin under the ears and behind the ears.

A person who has herpes will typically become infected from direct contact, such as kissing someone or sharing items with someone who has the virus.

The only safe and effective way to avoid contracting herpes is to avoid the source of infection.

An infected person’s saliva or fluid can be transmitted directly onto the skin of someone who is not yet infected, when that person scratches or shares objects with an infected person.

Around one in four people with a herpes infection will get a cold sore.

Related: How to stop a cold sore from spreading

Types of herpes

The HSV-2 virus causes cold sores, while the HSV-1 virus causes genital herpes.

HSV-1 is less well known than HSV-2. It causes genital herpes, which is often more severe than genital herpes caused by HSV-2.

Genital herpes is also the more common type of herpes.

More about Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can affect the genitals, mouth, or throat. In men, it is commonly referred to as ‘cold sores’, because they appear as small, white blisters around the mouth, lip, or on the genitals.

It can be spread during intimate or sexual contact. When it spreads from one person to another, it is known as ‘contact transmission’.

A woman who has herpes can transmit it to her sexual partners through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Cold sores can occur in these areas. They appear as tiny blisters, which can appear on the genitals, buttocks, and mouth, and can be itchy or painful.

The most common way for people to contract herpes is through sex. A woman who has herpes can also transmit it to her sexual partners through kissing, oral sex, or vaginal sex.

HSV-1 is also more likely to cause oral herpes than HSV-2. Most people with HSV-1 will develop oral herpes.

This is because HSV-1 is passed on in saliva and mouth secretions from the infected person to the host. HSV-1 is passed on much more easily from person to person than HSV-2.

This is because HSV-1 is much more commonly spread through kissing and saliva than HSV-2, which is transmitted through sores on the genitals.

Transmission of HSV-1 and HSV-2

The only safe and effective way to avoid contracting herpes is to avoid the source of infection.

Although both of these viruses are spread by direct contact, people who have both types of herpes are more at risk of acquiring new infections.

Oral herpes is usually less serious than genital herpes. However, anyone with HSV-1 genital herpes should always seek medical attention if symptoms do not go away after 2 weeks. This condition is more serious and can be life-threatening if not treated.

Life-threatening consequences of genital herpes

This condition can result in permanent damage if left untreated. Left untreated, the virus can cause:

  • scarring of the lips
  • scarring of the genitals
  • oral ulcers
  • necrosis or tissue death
  • scarring of the mouth and lips, called oral herpes
  • blindness

Oral herpes is usually more serious and can result in death if not treated. Left untreated, the virus can cause:

  • scarring of the lips
  • scarring of the genitals
  • oral ulcers
  • necrosis or tissue death
  • scarring of the mouth and lips, called oral herpes
  • lindness

HSV-1 and HSV-2 have both antiviral and antituberculosis drugs that are available to treat people who have them.

Though antiviral drugs cannot completely cure HSV-2 and HSV-1, they can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.

Risk factors for HSV-2 and HSV-1


Being a smoker or using tobacco products can increase the risk of developing HSV-2. Having unprotected sex increases the likelihood of contracting HSV-2. It is usually more common in people who are sexually active.

HSV-2 is also more common among men than women. HSV-2 can be transmitted sexually, through sexual contact, or when sharing food.

Being a smoker or using tobacco products increases the risk of HSV-2.

The risk of contracting HSV-2 increases if a person has recently stopped using these substances.

Life-threatening complications

The most serious complications of HSV-2 and HSV-1 are:

  • malignancy
  • neurocognitive problems
  • neuropathy
  • anaphylaxis

HSV-2 can result in malignancy, which is a type of cancer. It can affect the skin and other soft tissues, the internal organs, and the blood and lymph system.

These areas can become infected by the herpes virus, causing swelling, scarring, or ulceration. HSV-2 is a serious condition and needs treatment right away to reduce the severity and risk of complications.

In some cases, HSV-2 causes neurocognitive problems, which can lead to behavioral problems.

Common complications of HSV-2 include:

  • paraneoplastic syndrome, in which a person develops sores in the lining of their brain
  • microcytic anemia, where a person develops an abnormally low blood supply to their red blood cells
  • neuropsychological difficulties, such as dyscalculia or dyslexia

For this reason, doctors usually recommend that people with HSV-2 should be monitored closely for the development of these symptoms.

When to see a doctor

Anyone who develops the symptoms of genital herpes should see a doctor, who will likely order laboratory tests to diagnose the condition. These tests can detect the virus and identify the most common strains.

A doctor will likely recommend treatment, which can include antiviral drugs to reduce the symptoms and the risk of developing complications.

Conditions caused by HSV

The following conditions are the result of the herpes virus.

Congenital HSV-2

Congenital HSV-2 occurs when the virus is passed on from a pregnant mother to her baby, while she is pregnant. This occurs when the mother is infected with HSV-1.

If a woman becomes pregnant after she has had HSV, the virus may be transmitted to the baby during delivery. Congenital HSV-2 often develops in babies born before they are 2 years old.

This can cause blindness, deafness, and muscle weakness.

Most of the time, babies with congenital HSV are not ill and do not have any complications.

HSV on top of HSV

Some adults are infected with the herpes virus and develop symptoms related to HSV without having HSV itself. These include:

HSV-1 on top of HSV

The herpes virus can also develop on top of HSV, which means that people who have HSV will have another infection on top of that.

This condition, known as latent HSV, is usually mild.

In some cases, it can lead to serious symptoms. People who have latent HSV should see a doctor if they develop a sudden onset of symptoms.

HSV-1 on top of HSV-2

Similar to the case with latent HSV, someone can develop symptoms related to HSV without having the actual virus.

This may happen if the virus develops on top of an HSV-1 infection.

In this case, it is called reactivation. The individual may have symptoms like:

  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • cold-like symptoms
  • nausea or vomiting
  • swelling in the throat
  • joint or muscle pain

Another type of reactivation of HSV is when the virus develops on top of an HSV-2 infection.

Possible complications

The herpes virus can be passed on to a pregnant woman. The herpes virus can be passed on to a pregnant woman.

The virus can also cause complications, which include:

HSV in a pregnant woman

When a pregnant woman is infected with HSV, the virus can spread to the fetus, resulting in birth defects and learning disabilities.

Most people who develop problems related to the herpes virus are unaware of the virus until the symptoms develop.

HSV-1 is spread through direct contact with the mouth or genital area. People with mild HSV symptoms who are sexually active can still spread the virus, so it is important to use a condom or abstain from sex during pregnancy.

HSV-2 is spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus.

There are also certain conditions that are very common in pregnant women, like HSV. If someone has an infection during pregnancy, doctors are able to treat the infection and lessen the symptoms of the virus.

HSV-2 on top of HIV

HIV is a virus that attacks a person’s immune system. This means that people with HIV have weakened immune systems, which are not able to protect the body from the virus.

In some people with HIV, the virus becomes dormant and can eventually become active again.

One type of HIV is called HIV-1 . It can reactivate when people with weak immune systems are exposed to an HSV infection.

HIV-1 reactivation is also a risk factor for certain cancers.

HIV-1 reactivation is particularly concerning because the virus can spread through the blood and lead to AIDS.

Condoms are advised for all types of sexual contact. If using a condom, the person should not have sex for at least 4 weeks.


No cure is available for HSV. However, it can be treated with antiviral medications and the herpes virus can usually be prevented.

People can reduce the risk of HSV transmission by using condoms. When using condoms, the person should not have sex for at least 4 weeks.

Anyone who develops symptoms of HSV is advised to see a doctor immediately.


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