The herpes simplex virus, also known as HSV, is an infection that causes herpes. Herpes can appear in various parts of the body, most commonly on the genitals or mouth. There are two types of the herpes simplex virus.
Once you’ve contracted HSV, there will be an incubation period — the time it takes from contracting the virus until the first symptom appears.
The incubation period for HSV-1 and HSV-2 is the same: 2 to 12 days. For most people, the symptoms begin to show up in about 3 to 6 days.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , the majority of people who contract HSV have such mild symptoms that they either go unnoticed or are mistakenly identified as a different skin condition. Bearing that in mind, herpes could go undetected for years.
The herpes simplex virus is a contagious virus that can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact. Children will often contract HSV-1 from early contact with an infected adult. They then carry the virus with them for the rest of their lives.
HSV-1 can be contracted from general interactions such as:
The virus spreads more quickly when an infected person is experiencing an outbreak. An estimated 67 percent
of people ages 49 or younger are seropositive for HSV-1, though they may never experience an outbreak. It’s also possible to get genital herpes from HSV-1 if someone who performed oral sex had cold sores during that time.
HSV-2 is contracted through forms of sexual contact with a person who has HSV-2. An estimated 20 percent of sexually active adults in the United States are infected with HSV-2, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). HSV-2 infections are spread through contact with a herpes sore. In contrast, most people get HSV-1 from an infected person who is asymptomatic, or does not have sores.
HSV-1 and HSV-2 are transmitted by contact with an infected person who has reactivations of the virus. HSV-2 is periodically shed in the human genital tract, most often asymptomatically. Most sexual transmissions occur during periods of asymptomatic shedding. Asymptomatic reactivation means that the virus causes atypical, subtle, or hard-to-notice symptoms that are not identified as an active herpes infection, so acquiring the virus is possible even if no active HSV blisters or sores are present. In one study, daily genital swab samples found HSV-2 at a median of 12–28% of days among those who have had an outbreak, and 10% of days among those suffering from asymptomatic infection, with many of these episodes occurring without visible outbreak (“subclinical shedding”).
Anyone can be infected with HSV, regardless of age. Your risk is based almost entirely on exposure to the infection.
In cases of sexually transmitted HSV, people are more at risk when they have sex not protected by condoms or other barrier methods.
Other risk factors for HSV-2 include:
If a pregnant woman is having an outbreak of genital herpes at the time of childbirth, it can expose the baby to both types of HSV, and may put them at risk for serious complications.
Some of the symptoms associated with this virus include:
You may also experience symptoms that are similar to the flu. These symptoms can include:
HSV can also spread to the eyes, causing a condition called herpes keratitis. This can cause symptoms such as eye pain, discharge, and a gritty feeling in the eye.
Although there is no cure for herpes, you can take measures to avoid contracting the virus, or to prevent transmitting HSV to another person.
If you’re experiencing an outbreak of HSV-1, consider taking a few preventive steps:
People with HSV-2 should avoid any type of sexual activity with other people during an outbreak. If the person is not experiencing symptoms but has been diagnosed with the virus, a condom should be used during intercourse. But even when using a condom, the virus can still be passed to a partner from uncovered skin.
Women who are pregnant and infected may have to take medication to prevent the virus from infecting their unborn babies.