There are several different herpes viruses, including chicken pox also known as varicella, Herpes Type 1 – Oral herpes, which is typically, though not always, found around the mouth and Herpes Type 2 – which is typically found around the genitals.
Oral Herpes – Type 1
This type of herpes is very common. In fact, if you were to test adults all around the world, between 60-80% would test positive for Oral Herpes, also known as Type 1. Most of us are familiar with seeing ourselves or another person with cold sores around their nose and mouth.
When you see a cold sore, it means there’s been a reactivation of the virus that’s been dormant (sleeping or inactive in the person’s nervous system). The herpes virus travels along nerves, which is what causes some of the referred pain.
- Blisters and sores around the nose and mouth
- Pain and itching at the site
- Some people will also experience a headache or jaw pain from the nerve pain
- Symptoms can last 3-7 days, sometimes however the sores continue and crust over for weeks
People with Oral Herpes, Type 1 can transmit the virus to other people when they have symptoms and even when they don’t. The person can shed the viral particles at any time, even if they are completely unaware that they have cold sores or Oral Herpes. That’s why so many people have herpes, it’s very easily transmitted.
This means that they may carry the virus in and around their nose and mouth and pass it to another person simply with a kiss. Remember 60-80% of all people around the world have oral herpes, so most of us get it very innocently and unknowingly from our own family members.
In general, people have recurrent outbreaks or re-activations of their oral herpes about 1-3 times/year, though some people have more outbreaks and certainly some people have fewer. If a person with Type 1 Herpes gives oral sex to a person when they have an outbreak OR when they are shedding the virus even without symptoms, then they can pass Type 1 herpes to the other person’s genitals.
No one can tell by looking at a herpes lesion on the skin whether it’s Type 1 or Type 2, for that you need to have a specialized test.
Can Oral Herpes be transmitted to the Genitals?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. If a person carries the Herpes Virus in the their mouth, even when they don’t have symptoms or know that they have the virus, they can still transmit it to another person’s genitals through oral sex.
It’s estimated that about 1/3 of the cases of genital herpes that we see are actually caused by Type 1 Herpes.
To prevent outbreaks of oral Herpes and cold sores, many people take anti-viral medication every day. This also helps prevent shedding and transmission to others. The options are:
Though a person could be shedding the virus and possibly transmit herpes to another person, it’s thought that the number of viral particles available is much larger when there are symptoms. Refrain from kissing anyone on the mouth or genitals if you have oral symptoms.