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What is the difference between oral and genital herpes?

Oral herpes causes sores and blisters on the lips and gums and in the mouth -- typically referred to as cold sores. Oral herpes is very common and can be spread by kissing or oral sex. It is usually caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

Genital herpes causes sores in the genital area. The sores it causes often are painful and sometimes itchy. Genital herpes can cause serious health problems in infants who become infected by their mothers during delivery and in people whose immune systems are weakened. Genital herpes can be caused by HSV-1 or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2); it is most often caused by HSV-2.

Some experts have speculated that having oral herpes reduces the chances of acquiring genital herpes, but most authorities believe there is no significant cross-protection between the two types.
Ever notice how friends or coworkers will complain that they are getting a cold sore, but no one ever announces when they are suffering from a genital herpes outbreak? There is a stigma attached to genital herpes, while oral herpes is the subject of casual conversation and benignly referred to as “cold sores.”

The truth is, both types of herpes are caused by similar viruses, which can cause breakouts in, on, or around the mouth, genitals, and anus depending on where one is infected. Oral herpes is most often caused by the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV1). Genital herpes is most often caused by the herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV2). Both viruses, however, can cause breakouts in both areas, if one is infected on that area. A partner with oral herpes may transmit the HSV1 to a partner’s genitals while performing oral sex, and that partner may then develop symptoms as genital herpes, and vice versa. More commonly, neither partner gets any symptoms, or else may mistake symptoms for something else. Many who contract one or both herpes viruses never show any symptoms and, therefore, never know they have it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.