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What Causes Herpes?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 11 January 2019
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The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes herpes. There are two main forms of this virus: HSV1 and HSV2. HSV1 typically causes herpes of the mouth, also known as cold sores, while HSV 2 more commonly causes herpes of the genitals. This virus is passed from an infected person to an uninfected person through small breaks in the skin or via mucus. Both forms of the virus are contracted in the same manner, though which type of virus one comes in contact with determines which part of the body is affected.

HSV1 causes herpes of the mouth, also known as cold sores. It is typically contracted through kissing or sharing items that come in contact with the mouth, such as drinks, tooth brushes or eating utensils. HSV1 has been known to cause herpes of the genitals, though this is not common. HSV1 typically causes fewer outbreaks than HSV2.

HSV2 causes herpes of the genitals and is the most life-altering of the herpes simplex viruses. It is passed through sexual contact between both straight and homosexual couples and can affect both the genitals and rectum. It causes outbreaks of blisters that burst into sores and can be mildly to extremely painful.

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Contrary to popular belief, those who have contracted the virus that causes herpes of the genitals can still pass it on to their partner, even if they are not experiencing an outbreak. This phenomenon occurs through shedding. Part of the virus that causes herpes stays in the outer layer of skin, which can transfer to another person during sexual contact when the skin sheds off.

The virus that causes herpes remains in a person’s body for the rest of his or her life. Despite this, it can only live for a very short time outside of the human body. Therefore it is nearly impossible to contract HSV from bathrooms or other public spaces. It is also important to note that HSV can transfer from one person to another through even microscopic tears in the skin.

Whether HSV1 or HSV2 causes a case of herpes, contracting this disease can permanently alter a person’s life and health. Therefore, it is important to refrain from sharing any utensils that touch the mouth of another person, even if they are family or friends, and to always use protection during sexual intercourse. Herpes affects each person differently, and some people go their entire lives without knowing they have contracted the virus, though they are still perfectly capable of passing it on to another person who may not have such luck.

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