Herpes 1 & 2

What is Herpes 1 & 2?

HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) I and II are two closely related, common viral infections, spread through direct skin contact or by vaginal, anal or oral sex. Many people with HSV do not realize they have an infection, often confusing outbreaks on the skin with other conditions, such as ingrown hairs or acne. Although there is currently no cure for HSV, the symptoms can be managed with medication and outbreaks often lessen over time.

Oral herpes, usually caused by HSV I, often appears as cold sores or fever blisters on the lips or in the mouth. Because even a casual kiss from someone with a cold sore can transmit the virus, HSV I is incredibly common. It is estimated that 50-80% of adults have had oral herpes at some time and still harbor the virus.

Genital herpes is usually caused by HSV II. It is less common, but the CDC estimates that of those aged 14-49 in the U.S., 1 in 6 have genital herpes. Roughly 90% of people with HSV I do not have obvious symptoms or know they are shedding the virus. This makes it a persistent threat that often goes undiagnosed.


Identifying the symptoms

Most individuals infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2 are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for another skin condition. As a result, 87.4% of infected individuals remain unaware of their infection.  When symptoms do occur, they typically appear as one or more vesicles on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. The average incubation period after exposure is 4 days (range, 2 to 12).  The vesicles break and leave painful ulcers that may take two to four weeks to heal. Experiencing these symptoms is referred to as having an "outbreak" or episode.

Clinical manifestations of genital herpes differ between the first and recurrent outbreaks of HSV. The first outbreak of herpes is often associated with a longer duration of herpetic lesions, increased viral shedding (making HSV transmission more likely) and systemic symptoms including fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, or headache.  Recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes are common, in particular during the first year of infection. Approximately half of patients who recognize recurrences have prodromal symptoms, such as mild tingling or shooting pains in the legs, hips or buttocks, which occur hours to days before the eruption of herpetic lesions. Symptoms of recurrent outbreaks are typically shorter in duration and less severe than the first outbreak of genital herpes. Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over time. Recurrences and subclinical shedding are much less frequent for genital HSV-1 infection than for genital HSV-2 infection.


What Should I do if I test positive?

Infection with HSV I & II is extremely common. However, it is important that you see a physician or health care provider. Although there is no cure for HSV, there are medications available to manage symptoms and suppress the virus to reduce the risk of infecting others. You should also inform all current and past sexual partners about your results so they know to get tested as well.

Left untreated, the herpes virus can cause meningitis, and exposed blisters can increase the risk of acquiring HIV.


What should I do if I test Negative?

A negative result indicates that at the time of collection, the presence of HSV was not detected in the sample provided. However, if the above symptoms arise or personal sexual activity changes, you should consider retesting.


For more information

For more information about Herpes visit the CDC website:

To speak with a trained STD counsellor, contact the CDC National Hotline at:

Phone: 1 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) (24 hours)

Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov