Most people cringe upon the thought of having herpes, but it's important understand the types of herpes, who’s at risk, how they are transmitted, and when they reoccur. There are two different strains or types of the herpes simplex virus: Type 1 and Type 2. They are both common infections and have the ability to cause oral or genital infections. These two types are alike in that they cause similar sores. However, they are also very different.
Transmission of Herpes Type 1 and Type 2
Type 1 is the more common form of herpes. It is often transmitted during childhood mainly through contact with infected saliva. It affects the lip, mouth and face by causing cold sores or "fever blisters."
Type 2, on the other hand, is transmitted primarily through genital secretions, mostly occurring during sexual encounters. Although rare, it can be passed from an infected mother to her unborn baby. It is characterized by lesions and sores developing on or near the genitals.
With both types, the chances of transmitting it to another person is much greater when the symptoms are active than when they are dormant, but the virus can still be passed on when the signs are inactive.
Even though an individual may have been infected by Type 1, or oral herpes, it is possible for that type to cause genital infections, and it is still possible for Type 2, genital herpes, to cause oral infections. This occurrence is less likely, however.
Primary Herpes Infections
Because most cases of Type 1 take place during childhood, many people do not even recall having the primary infection. Even if the herpes occurred after childhood, most cases are classified as subclinical, meaning the symptoms go unnoticed and the infection goes untreated.
The infection may cause mild symptoms that include fever, swollen gums, and white blisters on the tongue and inside of the cheeks. These blisters eventually burst, resulting in yellow ulcers. The primary infection generally lasts between 10 and 14 days.
Like Type 1, Type 2 does not always exhibit obvious initial signs that show an individual he or she has been infected. In fact, after the transmission most individuals have no or few symptoms from the infection, and are not aware they have been infected by the virus.
If the first signs do appear, they usually appear within two weeks after the virus has been transmitted, and consist of flu-like symptoms and ulcers that appear on the genitals. These symptoms can last up to three weeks if left untreated. Even though the first infection for most people is mild, it is possible for it to worsen with more frequent symptoms that are more severe.
Recurrent Herpes Infections
After the initial infection, the body develops resistance to the virus, so it lies in a dormant state in or around the nerves that supply sensation to the skin. However, the body's defense is not strong enough to fully protect against all future attacks. When the immune system is low, the virus sometimes reactivates and grows through the nerves and surfaces onto the open skin. Once on the skin, it multiplies and causes the skin to become infected. After a certain amount of time, the virus dies and goes back down the nerve fiber, becoming dormant again.
Both types can be activated by stress, sun, fever, hormonal changes, and trauma, but sometimes the herpes reoccurs at random.
Reoccurrences for Type 1 infections mostly appear specifically on the mouth. Reoccurrences for Type 2 usually appear on or around the sexual organs or buttocks.
Type 2 herpes are more likely to reoccur than type 1 herpes. Oral herpes can occur as little as once or twice a year. Genital herpes usually occur between 4 and 8 times annually. Over time, the frequency and pain of the sores decrease for both types.
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