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Oral vs. genital herpes: What's the difference?

Introduction

There are many myths about herpes virus and the kinds of diseases it causes. The fact is that there is not just one herpes virus- for now the scientists have identified more than 80 different varieties of herpes virus. The two most common herpes viruses, and the ones that are known to basically everyone, are herpes simplex virus 1 or HSV-1 and herpes simplex virus 2 or HSV-2. These two cause the most common forms of herpes infection- oral herpes and genital herpes.

The distinction between two viruses is made more based on where they appear than on the actually type of the virus. Still, it is safe to say that HSV-1 mainly causes oral herpes, also known as herpes labialis, cold sore or fever blister, while HSV-2 is mostly responsible for genital herpes. Both are considered to be sexually transmitted, but HSV-1 can be transmitted in different ways too, for example through kisses.

Oral herpes

Oral herpes, also called cold sore or fever blister, commonly appears on the lips, but sometimes it can develop inside the mouth or in the nose too. Its symptoms are similar to those of genital herpes, except for the location, of course.

Before an actual sore appears, there is a slight tingling sensation at the site where the sore will appear. The sore at first takes form of a fluid-filled blister, which eventually bursts and a scab forms on top of it. Oral herpes heals in seven to 14 days.

The virus is usually contracted in the childhood, through kissing or, less commonly, through hand-to-mouth contact. Many times the virus is asymptomatic at first, but the outbreaks, after the initial one, tend to reoccur. It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of adult Americans have oral herpes, in one form or another.

Oral herpes can be caused by both HSV-1 and HSV-2, but HSV-1 is responsible for more than 90 percent of cases of oral herpes. Oral herpes caused by HSV-2 has more frequent outbreaks and more severe symptoms.

Genital herpes

In the majority of cases, genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. The virus is primarily spread through sexual contact, whether it is vaginal, anal or oral. Genital herpes, just like oral herpes, involves blisters. However, compared to oral herpes, the number of blisters in genital herpes is much higher. At first, the area becomes tingly and then small red bumps appear. The bumps then turn into blisters. When the blisters burst, a scab forms. After the scabs fall off, the herpes can be considered healed.

An outbreak of genital herpes can involve flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, muscle ache and headache. This sometimes happens with oral herpes too, but much less frequently.

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