Is That Cold Sore Really Herpes?
Is that cold sore really herpes? What’s the difference between a cold sore and genital herpes? Is there even a difference?
Maybe you’re confused. Someone has referred to a cold sore as herpes, but isn’t herpes an STD (sexually transmitted disease)? And even little kids can get cold sores. So what’s that all about?
Those are all good questions. Let’s sort this out.
First of all, there are two different kinds of herpes: herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). Both of these are viral — which means they are caused by a virus and once you get the virus, you have the virus forever.
HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact, like from saliva. Most cases of HSV-1 are contracted during childhood and the infections are oral, which means the infection is in or around the mouth. This means HSV-1 is not always a sexually transmitted infection. But if someone with HSV-1 has oral sex, they could pass the infection to their partner and cause an HSV-1 infection on the genitals. So some cases of genital herpes can be caused by HSV-1.
HSV-2 is almost always spread through sexual contact and causes genital herpes. One exception is if a mother has herpes, she can transmit the virus to her baby during delivery.
So HSV-1 is the main cause of oral herpes (cold sores), and HSV-2 is the main cause of genital herpes.
What are the symptoms of herpes?
Like many STD’s, a lot of people with herpes don’t have symptoms at all. However, both infections – oral and genital – can cause mild symptoms to painful blisters or sores. With HSV-2, when sores do happen, it’s called a “herpes outbreak.” It can often take 2-4 weeks to heal and can be accompanied with flu-like symptoms. Many times the number and severity of outbreaks decrease over time.
How common is herpes?
According to the Centers for Disease Control genital herpes is common in the United States. More than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes.
How is herpes spread?
As we said, HSV-1 is mostly spread by oral-to-oral contact – by direct contact with the sores, with saliva, or with surfaces in or around the mouth. Sometimes, HSV-1 is spread through oral sex. HSV-2 is mostly transmitted during sexual activity – through direct contact with the genital surfaces, skin, sores, or the fluids of someone who is infected by HSV-2. Often, HSV-2 is spread even though there are no obvious sores or symptoms.
How can I prevent herpes?
Consistently and correctly using condoms can help reduce the risk of spreading genital herpes, but HSV can be found on areas of skin not covered by a condom. The only way to 100% prevent spreading or contracting herpes is to abstain from all sexual activity and to only have sex when you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship (you both only ever have sex with each other).
If you have tested positive for herpes, talk with your medical provider about how you can reduce the chances of spreading herpes to future partners.
I want more information, how can I get that?
If you want to learn more about herpes simplex 1 or 2, you can go to the World Health Organization site – or to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. You can also call and schedule a time to come in and talk with one of our Collage staff members. All of our services are confidential and provided at no cost to you. Call us today to schedule an appointment.