How Common is Herpes Simplex?

Herpes simplex is a common infectious virus that is divided into two types: Herpes Simplex Type 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV-2). Both types are characterized as sores or blisters, but they reside on and in different parts of the body. Type 1 consists of sores that appear on the face, specifically the mouth. They are also known as "fever blisters."

Type 2 consists of sores that appear on the genitals of males and females. HSV-1 can be transmitted through infected saliva and HSV-2 can be transmitted through infected genital secretion. Along with causing infections in the location through which it was contracted, both types can cause infections in the other's "home." This means HSV-1 can be responsible for genital infections and HSV-2 can be responsible for oral infections.

How common is Herpes Simplex?

It is estimated that 50-80% of the world's population has HSV-1 or oral herpes. Because areas of third world countries are so underdeveloped and tend to be crowded, 100% of the children who live there become infected with the virus by age five. In the United States, many of the 100 million people who have HSV-1 acquired the virus during childhood as well. Also in the United States, 1 in 5 adults have HSV-2 or genital herpes. At least 45 million people ages 12 and older have had a genital infection caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 in their lifetime.

Why is Herpes Simplex so Common?

Its often inconspicuous and latent nature is one of the main reasons for herpes simplex's commonness. Because symptoms of the virus are not obvious, individuals usually do not realize they have been infected and will unknowingly pass the virus on to someone else. When infected with either type, at least two-thirds of the people do not have any symptoms or the symptoms are too mild and go unnoticed. However the initial infection of type 2 usually cause signs that are more obvious than the signs caused by the initial infection of type 1. Even though herpes simplex often lies dormant, during which it does not show any visible signs of its presence, it still has the ability to be transferred to another person. During the virus' resting state, people who do not know they are infected are even less likely to realize they have the virus, and are more likely to pass it on to someone else. As time goes on, the outbreaks tend to be less noticeable and occur less frequently. But since herpes can not be cured, it will always be present in the body. If someone does not take heed of the virus the first time around with the primary infection, then it could be years before they realize they have been infected and by that time will have infected many others.

Transmission of Herpes Simplex

Even though both types have the same probability of being contagious, many people go through great lengths to try and protect themselves and their partner from spreading HSV-2, given society's frowned-upon attitude towards it, but very few give much thought to HSV-1 --- despite its prevalence. Since it is transmitted through saliva, HSV-1 can be transferred more easily than HSV-2 which is transmitted through sexual activity; therefore HSV-1 is the more widespread type. There are many circumstances in which individuals can receive the virus such as being kissed by someone who has the virus or eating or drinking from something someone who has the virus has used. This is why most people already have the virus by the time they are five.

Photo Credit: PLGSTD05

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