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Causes of Herpes

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causes of herpes

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  • Herpes is caused by two different but closely related viruses, leading to two distinct infections — oral herpes and genital herpes
  • You’re likely to have herpes if you have come into close contact with an infected person, or if you have had sexual intercourse with someone who has the virus in their body
  • A higher risk of exposure to the HSV-1 has been linked to infants and young children up to 3 years old

Herpes is caused by two different 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 Does Oral Herpes Manifest in Your Body?

One type of herpes is oral herpes, characterized by particularly small and painful blisters known as cold sores, which appear on the lips, mouth, gums or throat. While oral herpes cases are predominantly caused by HSV-1, HSV-2 can also be transferred to the mouth during sexual contact.3 You may acquire oral herpes-causing viruses via the following ways:4,5

  • Having intimate or personal contact with an infected person via sexual intercourse or kissing6
  • Touching an open herpes sore or skin of an infected person7
  • Handling things with traces of the virus, such as razors, dishes, towels and shared items

Although this rarely happens, some babies may be born with the HSV-1 virus. If their mothers were infected with this pathogen when they were pregnant, they can pass the virus to their children during birth, causing the baby to struggle with a condition called neonatal herpes.8

How Can You Be Affected With Genital Herpes?

The other herpes virus, HSV-2, mainly causes genital herpes,9 although there are instances when the HSV-1 virus can be responsible for it, too.10 This infection causes symptoms to appear on your mucous membranes and genitals, particularly on the skin.11 If you have genital herpes, you may feel pain and itching, and spot small red or white sores in the genital area.12 This virus is usually transmitted from one person to another through:13,14

  • Unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex with an infected person
  • Sharing infected sex toys
  • Exposure to an infected person’s genital skin or secretions, or herpes sores15
  • Sexual intercourse even if someone has cold sores16
  • Breastfeeding (if a baby accidentally touches an open sore)17

Unlike oral herpes, you can’t acquire genital herpes if you touch an object previously held by an infected person, such as towels, bedding, silverware or soap, or if you stay in areas where infected people may have been like toilets, swimming pools18 or hot tubs.19

You may need to be careful against the HSV-2 virus, because whether or not indicators of genital herpes are present, this pathogen can spread quickly from one person to another.20 Plus, you have a higher genital herpes risk if you:21,22

  • Are a woman (the herpes virus is passed more “efficiently” from a man to a woman than from a woman to a man)
  • Have multiple sex partners, especially if you have frequent intercourse with new people
  • Have been previously diagnosed with another sexually transmitted infection
  • Have a compromised immune system because of diseases or medications


Herpes: Introduction

What Is Herpes?

Herpes Types

Herpes Causes

Herpes Stages

Herpes Symptoms

Herpes Prevention

Herpes Diagnosis

Herpes Treatment

Living With Herpes

Herpes FAQ

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Herpes Stages

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