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What Are the Causes of Herpes?

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Herpes is caused by two different but closely related viruses, leading to two distinct infections.1 These viruses are the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).2

How to Know If You Have Oral Herpes

One type of herpes is oral herpes, characterized by infections on the lips, mouth or gums and lead to the formation of small and painful blisters known as cold sores.3 While oral herpes cases are predominantly caused by HSV-1, HSV-2 can also be transferred to the mouth during sexual contact.4 There are various ways you can be infected:5,6

Contact with infected saliva, mucous membranes or skin

Having intimate or personal contact with an infected person, such as kissing7

Touching an open herpes sore

Touching something that has traces of the herpes virus, such as razors, dishes, towels and other shared items

Did you know that infants and young children up to 3 years old have a heightened risk of exposure to HSV-1? However, this does not mean that adults can’t have oral herpes, because if they perform any of the activities mentioned above with someone who already has the disease, they can be infected.8

Physical and environmental factors also come into play when it comes to an outbreak of cold sores. These include:9

Exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light

Weakened immune system because of stress caused by illness or excessive exercise

Emotional stress because of life events

How to Know If You Have Genital Herpes

The other herpes virus, HSV-2, causes genital herpes. As the name implies, this type of herpes affects the mucous membranes and/or skin of the genitals.10

People with genital herpes usually feel pain and itching and/or spot visible sores in the genital area, but the virus can spread from one person to another regardless of whether symptoms are felt or not, even without these sores.11 This virus is usually transmitted from one person to another via:12

Unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex13

Having oral sex with a person with cold sores

Sharing infected sex toys

Having genital contact with an infected person

Women are more prone to having genital herpes, but this does not mean that men aren’t spared from the infection. It’s just because the herpes virus is passed more efficiently from a man to woman than from a woman to a man. If you have multiple sexual partners, do know that you increase your risk every time you have sexual contact with a new partner, so it’s best to take precautionary measures.14

Take note that unlike oral herpes, you cannot get genital herpes if you touch an object that was previously held by someone with the disease, such as working surfaces, washbasins or towels.15

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