What is herpes simplex?

Good In Bed
Sexual Health
Herpes is a viral sexually transmitted infection (STI), which means it’s caused by a virus rather than bacteria, as many other STIs are. As a result, herpes cannot be treated with antibiotics, and the virus remains in a person’s immune system for life. Depending on which area of the body a person has acquired a herpes infection in, herpes may cause symptoms in, on or around the mouth, genitals, and/or anus. Not all who contract the herpes virus develop symptoms, however -- in fact, two-thirds of those with herpes carry the virus and never know it.
Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine
Herpes is a DNA virus. There are two strains: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 more commonly occurs in the mouth, and type 2 more often in the genitals, but both can occur in either location. One person can be infected with both types.
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Herpes simplex is a virus that infects the skin, mucous membranes and nerves.

There are two major types of herpes simplex virus (HSV). Type I is the most common and primarily infects the face, causing the familiar “cold sore” or “fever blister.” Type II is the sexually transmitted form of herpes, infecting the genitals. While both can spread to the eye and cause infection, Type I is by far the most frequent type associated with herpes simplex eye disease.

Type I herpes is very contagious and commonly is transmitted by skin contact with someone who has the virus. Almost everyone — about 90 percent of the population — is exposed to Type I herpes, usually during childhood.

After the original infection, the virus lies in a quiet or dormant period, living in nerve cells of the skin or eye. Occasionally, the virus can reactivate and cause new cold sores or blisters to form. Reactivation can be triggered by any number of reasons, including:

  • Stress
  • Sun exposure
  • Fever
  • Trauma to the body (injury or surgery)
  • Menstruation
  • Certain medications

Infection can be transferred to the eye by touching an active lesion (a cold sore or blister) and then your eye.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Nine out of 10 people are already infected with the herpes simplex virus, and most do not know it. Learn more about herpes simplex in this video with Dr. Oz.



Herpes simplex is a virus that causes the herpes infection. It can affect several body parts including the lips, which results in the common cold sore. The virus can also infect the inside of the mouth, the genital area of men and women (genital herpes), and the eyes (herpes simplex keratitis). Herpes simplex that affects the mouth and eyes is generally called type 1 or HSV-1, while herpes simplex affecting the genitals is type 2 or HSV-2. The types are for the most part similar to one another, though they can be distinguished in a blood test. There is no cure for herpes infection, but treatment can help control the virus.

Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Herpes simplex is a virus that is responsible for cold sores and genital herpes. There are two types of herpes simplex viruses: type 1 (HSV-1) is most often responsible for cold sores (also referred to as fever blisters), while type 2 (HSV-2) is responsible for nearly 90 percent of cases of genital herpes (the remaining 10 percent are caused by HSV-1).

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Continue Learning about Herpes Simplex (HSV)

Herpes Simplex (HSV)

Herpes Simplex (HSV)

Herpes simplex is a virus that can cause painful blisters and sores. Both males and females can get it. Herpes can affect the lips, the inside of the mouth and the eyes. The virus can also infect the genital area (genital herpes). ...

Herpes simplex that affects the mouth and eyes is generally called type 1 or HSV-1, while HSV affecting the genitals is type 2 or HSV-2. The two types of herpes are generally the same, although they can be distinguished in a blood test. While a herpes infection may cause only a single outbreak, recurrent outbreaks are not uncommon. Infections can be triggered by stress, fatigue, sunlight or another infection, such as a cold or flu. Treatment can reduce the number and severity of outbreaks, but cannot cure HSV.
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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.