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) - 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

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.

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?

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.

See also: How do you Check Herpes From Home?


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