What Is Herpes? - Types of Herpes

Apr 11, 2024

What Is Herpes?Herpes (or herpes simplex to use the technical name) is a much-misunderstood medical condition. One reason is because it takes two forms, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 typically affects the skin around the face and mouth while HSV-2 affects the genitals. Once a person is infected with the herpes virus, the infection is a lifelong one. The virus may remain dormant in the system for years and only appear when the body is exposed to a trigger. When an attack occurs, it normally results in skin sores that are itchy and painful. The sores typically last for 10 to 14 days. In many cases, people with the herpes virus never experience any symptoms at all.

Herpes, on its own, does not normally cause any severe health issues, but if infants or those with compromised immune systems are infected, the effect of the disease can be dangerous.

The Two Types of Herpes 

  1. Herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1, commonly known as oral herpes) causes cold sores and blisters on the face and mouth. The sores/blisters are very sensitive and painful while they last and if scratched, may leave long-term scars on the skin. The infection spreads via contact with an infected person’s saliva or by touch.
  2. Herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2, commonly known as genital herpes) is transmitted through sexual activity or contact with an infected person’s genitals. Any area of skin that comes into contact with infected genitals can become infected. The sores and blisters that erupt are the same as those of HSV-2.

While these are the most common forms of the disease, herpes may also affect other parts of the body including the skin in other areas and the eyes. Carrying the virus does not mean that the symptoms will appear. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 67% of the global population under the age of 50 carry the HSV-1 virus and 13% of those under 50 carry the HSV-2 virus. However, many people go through life without ever displaying even the mildest of symptoms.

Causes and Cure 

Herpes is a viral infection and is a result of physical contact or coming into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. As already described, an infection may stay dormant for years and may often never produce any symptoms at all. However, various triggers may activate the infection, resulting in the development of sores/blisters. Among the common triggers are:

  • Stress
  • Exposure to the sun
  • Menstrual periods
  • Any fever or illness

Also Read: How do you treat eczema symptoms?


Diagnosing herpes starts with an examination of the sores/blisters. An experienced dermatologist will be able to differentiate herpes sores from other skin conditions. If there is any doubt, a blood test may be done to look for HSV-1 and HSV-2 antibodies which will show that an exposure to the virus has occurred. The blood test will not show the signs of an active infection, but the evidence of past exposure will be a valuable clue in the diagnostic process. In some cases, treatment to alleviate the symptoms may be started and another blood test will be done after some weeks, when the antibodies have developed, to confirm the diagnosis.


Often, people underestimate the nature and causes of skin sores and blisters and try various home remedies. The application of homemade balms, ointments, oils, etc. may appear to provide relief from the discomfort but unless the sores are correctly diagnosed and the right medication is given, the pain and discomfort may last much longer than they should and the risk of scarring will increase. Additionally, the presence of skin sores and blisters can have a psychological impact, making people insecure about their appearance and causing awkwardness in social and professional interactions.

Once a herpes attack is confirmed, a doctor will prescribe antiviral medication to stop the virus from multiplying. The earlier the medication is begun, the shorter the duration of the attack and the lower the risk of long-term scarring. Applying ointments specifically designed to ease the discomfort of herpes sores may also be prescribed.

If the patient has a history of frequent attacks (6 or more times a year), a long-term course of antiviral medication may be prescribed to if not completely stop future attacks, at least to reduce the frequency.

Also Read: White Patches on the Skin


There is no completely effective way to prevent contracting the herpes virus. However, the following precautions can help in significantly reducing the likelihood of getting infected:

  • Staying away from a person with skin sores or blisters around the face or genitals.
  • Regular washing of hands, especially after being in a place where there is a high chance of people being infected with herpes.
  • Avoiding sex or any form of close physical contact with a person showing signs of herpes.
  • If there have been previous attacks, try to track the triggers such as stress, sun exposure and other factors that brought them on and avoid them in the future.

Herpes is not normally a fatal disease and while the condition is a self-limiting one, this does not mean that the disease can be ignored till it goes away on its own. Herpes of either type could cause other health issues which may have serious consequences. Additionally, the sores and blisters may leave permanent scars or blemishes on the skin. If you or someone close to you shows any signs of suffering from either HSV-1 or HSV-2, professional medical assistance must be obtained. This will not only relieve the suffering of the patient, but it will go a long way towards ensuring that others, who are in proximity to the patient, do not get infected.

A multispecialty hospital where there are not only world-class diagnostic facilities but also the best dermatology department to provide the best possible treatment is the right place to be treated.

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