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Herpes Simplex Virus is Super Common—But How Much Do You Really Know About It?

SimpleHealth
SimpleHealth
Published: May 17, 2021Updated: May 19, 2021

If you’ve ever gotten a little fever blister or a cold sore around your mouth, welcome to the club—you’re one of approximately 3.7 billion people under age 50 to have the HSV-1 infection.

“But wait,” you might be thinking. “Does that mean I have an STD? I haven’t had sexual contact with anyone in months. How is that even possible?”

Yup, for such a common infection, there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the herpes simplex virus and its two strains, HSV-1 and HSV-2. And since May is Sex Ed For All Month (more about that here), we thought it was the perfect time to go over some of the HSV basics. Plus, we’ll share what the best treatment options for herpes are, in case you experience an outbreak in the future.

What is herpes?

Herpes is a common virus that causes sores on your genitals or your mouth. And let’s really emphasize that “common” part, because you shouldn’t feel any shame if you experience a herpes outbreak: more than half of Americans have oral herpes, and about 1 out of 6 Americans has genital herpes. So yeah, even if you don’t have herpes yourself, you definitely know someone who does.

The herpes simplex virus (also known as HSV) has two strains:

  • HSV-1 mostly causes oral herpes, leading to the occasional cold sore or fever blister around your mouth or on your face.
  • HSV-2 mostly causes genital herpes, and it’s responsible for genital herpes outbreaks.

How do you get herpes?

You can contract herpes a couple of different ways, depending on what strand you have—but in general, herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact. For example, since HSV-1 is mostly associated with oral herpes, you’re most likely to get it from mouth-to-mouth contact like kissing. You could also get it by sharing lip balm or using the same eating utensils as a friend—yup, even if that friend is asymptomatic and doesn’t have any visible cold sores at the moment. In some cases, a person can get HSV-1 from receiving oral sex from a partner who’s currently experiencing an HSV-1 outbreak. 

HSV-2, meanwhile, is transmitted through sexual activity. In either strain, herpes is most contagious when sores are open and wet, because the fluid makes it easier for the virus to travel. Weirdly, though, most people get herpes from someone who’s not experiencing any symptoms. That’s because the virus can live in your body for years without presenting itself, and it’s really hard to trace when, where, and how anyone gets herpes—hence, why it’s such a common infection. 

How do you treat herpes?

Bad news first. There’s no cure for herpes, meaning that once you contract it, you have it for life.

But, good news! There are really effective ways to treat symptoms and limit outbreaks. Your doctor might prescribe medications like valacyclovir, which helps reduce your risk of transmitting the virus to others while also lowering the intensity and frequency of your outbreaks. (And remember, take a break from any sexual activity whenever you’re experiencing an outbreak.)

At SimpleHealth, we offer a Prescription Cold Sore and Herpes Kit to help you treat HSV-1 and HSV-2 if you’ve been previously diagnosed with cold sores or for genital herpes. Our doctors recommend taking valacyclovir at the first signs of an outbreak, whenever you first notice tingling, burning, or blisters. Just fill out our online consultation and add our cold sore treatment to your order. Then, our doctors will review your needs and medical history to determine if this treatment is a good fit for you. If you are prescribed, your treatment will be delivered with your birth control (we always ship for free)!

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