Herpes simplex viruses (HSV) cause open sores or blisters in the oral cavity of on the lips (herpes labialis) or on or around the genitals (genital herpes). There are two main types of herpes simplex viruses:

Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV I) is the most common form of herpes that affects most people at least once during childhood. It is passed from person-to-person through contact with saliva. It is responsible for the formation of cold sores (fever blisters) which are crusted, scabbed lesions that may be preceded by pain, burning and tingling present on the lips. They are self-limited over 1 to 2 weeks and resolve without treatment. Oral medications are available (i.e. acyclovir, valacyclovir) to shorten the course. If taken early enough or on a daily basis, the medications can prevent future lesions.

Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV II) is a sexually transmitted disease that affects either to the genital area or mouth. About one in five adults in the U.S. has this form of the herpes virus, although many people are not aware that they are infected. The infection is characterized by lesions that form ulcers and the lesions are most prevalent on the vagina, vulva, penis, scrotum testicles, thighs or buttocks. They may be accompanied by a fever, swollen glands, headache or painful urination. Many people with genital herpes experience sensations of itching, tingling, burning or pain in areas where lesions will develop. On average, adults with genital herpes have about 4 or 5 outbreaks a year. The first outbreak is usually the most severe and more outbreaks occur the first year than any subsequent year. The virus takes root in nerve cells, lying dormant until it re-emerges with another outbreak.

Genital herpes is diagnosed through a viral culture test of the fluid from a lesion and blood tests. There is no known cure. Treatment is designed to reduce transmission to others, reduce pain and hasten healing and includes antiviral medications similar to that for HSV I. Treatment is important to prevent transmission to sexual partners. It is important for people with genital herpes to avoid sexual contact during an active outbreak to reduce the risk of passing the infection on to a sex partner. Even when asymptomatic, patients can “shed” virus and be consider contagious. Thus, patients with HSV II are encouraged to practice safe sex using condoms at all times.

Herpes virus can lead to serious infections in those with eczema or other skin conditions, leading to eczema herpeticum, a wide spread HSV infection. Additionally, mother with genital herpes can pass the virus onto their newborn causing life-threatening consequences.