When people think of herpes, the first thing that may come to mind is pain, itching, red bumps, or blisters, particularly in the genital area. But, there’s actually a lot more to this common virus - including the fact that there are two types (HSV-1 and HSV-2), both with some key differences.

With the above in mind, it’s easy to assume that what we know about herpes isn’t all there is to know. So, while the herpes simplex virus (HSV) is the cause of both genital and oral herpes, it’s categorized into two types: Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV-2). While HSV-1 is primarily spread through oral contact, HSV-2 is sexually transmitted.

See also: What Is Herpes? How To Deal With A Herpes Diagnosis

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What are the two types of herpes?

Herpes is so common that almost any sexually active person is at risk of contracting it. Although this virus causes both genital and oral herpes, and both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are forms of the herpes virus, there are some key differences between both; from how it's contracted to what part of the body it affects.

What is Herpes Simples Virus Type 1 (HSV-1)?

HSV-1 is the most common herpes simplex virus globally with an estimated 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 believed to be infected by it worldwide [1]. HSV-1 is transmitted through oral contact and is the cause of oral herpes; perhaps better known as the common cold sore.

Signs and symptoms of HSV-1 infection include:

  • Tingling and itching around the lips
  • Blisters along the border of the lips

HSV-1 infection tends to be passed on from quite a young age. It can sometimes be contracted when a child has been kissed by someone with an active outbreak/cold sore.

Is HSV-1 an STD?

Although HSV-1 is commonly passed on during early childhood so it is not technically considered to be an STD, it can be spread later on in life from the mouth to the genital area during oral sex. When the virus is spread in this way, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes.

Can someone with HSV-1 spread HSV-2?

Although HSV-1 is commonly known to spread through oral contact and cause oral herpes, perhaps better known as cold sores or fever blisters, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) it can also cause genital herpes. This can occur through oral-genital contact such as during oral sex and can cause small red bumps or tiny white blisters around the genitals.

It’s important to note that most herpes infections are asymptomatic and while infections are most contagious when symptoms are present, they can still be spread with no symptoms.

What is Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2)?

According to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that 491 million people aged 15-49 have the HSV-2 infection worldwide [2]. HSV-2 is transmitted through sexual contact and is the cause of genital herpes.

Signs and symptoms of HSV-2 infection include:

  • Pain or itching in the genital area
  • Small bumps or blisters
  • Ulcers

Causes of HSV-2 infection include:

  • Skin to skin contact with an infected area (this includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex)
  • Cold sore comes in contact with genitals
  • Sharing sex toys

See also: Can Herpes go Away on its Own?

How do you know if you have HSV-1 or 2?

As mentioned above, HSV-1 is typically the cause of oral herpes, which causes sores or ulcers in or around the mouth, and, HSV-2 causes genital herpes. However, in some cases, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes. This means that the most reliable way to know which type of herpes you have is by taking a visit to your doctor for medical advice.

One of the best ways of lowering your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection is by regularly screening your sexual health. This can be done with your local doctor or from the comfort of your own home with an at-home lab test.

LetsGetChecked’s at-home Herpes Test can detect herpes simplex antibodies for either HSV-1 or HSV-2. Online results will be available within 5 days and our dedicated medical team will be there to offer a helping hand should you have any questions.

You should also consider getting tested if:

  • You used a needle or syringe to inject drugs into your body that someone with herpes has already used
  • You become sexually active
  • You have had unprotected sex
  • You are experiencing symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease
  • You are entering into a new sexual relationship
  • You have received a notification from a previous partner that they are infected
  • If you suspect that you have an active herpes infection, a swab by a healthcare provider may be required

See also: How do you Check Herpes From Home?

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Buy an At-Home Sexual Health Test

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  1. World Health Organization. Herpes Simplex Virus. Online: Who.int, 2020
  2. World Health Organization. Herpes Simplex Virus. Online: Who.int, 2020