The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is a common virus that infects most people in the United States by age 20 and causes oral herpes. But mouth herpes can also develop from infection by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). However, 80% of oral herpes infection is caused by herpes-1 and can occur through non-sexual and sexual contact. Due to the high HSV-1 transmission rates, it is important for you to know how the virus passes from one person to another and other HSV-1 transmission facts.
What is HSV-1?
HSV-1 is a highly contagious virus that mainly causes oral herpes or mouth herpes. It is transmitted through saliva or infected skin and can affect the mouth, gums, lips, throat, or inside the cheeks. When this happens, painful blisters called fever blisters or cold cores develop. The initial infection causes an outbreak of cold sores and symptoms such as fever and muscle aches. The virus then goes to sleep or becomes inactive.
At this stage, HSV-1 is still present in the body but is asymptomatic. Nevertheless, the virus can reactivate thus increasing the risk of transmission. Herpes-1 is more commonly found in females than in males. This may be an indication that the female to male HSV-1 transmission rate is higher than male to female.
6 Important HSV-1 Transmission Facts
These 6 HSV-1 transmission facts will bust some of the myths surrounding the virus, how it is transmitted, and who can be infected. They can also help you take precautionary steps to avoid getting the virus or passing it on to others.
Fact #1: The Virus Can Infect Anyone
Anyone can become infected with the herpes simplex virus 1. This includes infants and children. Similarly, anyone can transmit the virus which is most contagious during an outbreak, especially when the sores are wet or open. However, transmission can occur even when the sores are dried or scabbing. The virus can pass through kissing or skin-to-skin contact. For example, a parent can infect their infant or child from kissing them or the cheek or lips. Sharing silverware, lip balm, or razors are other ways the virus can pass.
Fact #2: The Virus is Commonly Passed Through Kissing
When it comes to HSV-1 transmission rates, it is believed that most people contract the virus from kissing. This includes lip kissing or deep kissing (French kiss) which involves the exchange of saliva. Most adults who have the virus caught it while they were kids. It is possible that they got it from someone who didn’t know they were infected and innocently passed it on. This can easily happen because the virus goes dormant and can stay in the body for years without causing a breakout.
Fact #3: HSV-1 Can Transmit When No Symptoms are Present
Many people think that someone who has HSV-1 oral herpes can pass it to others only if sores are present on or in the mouth. When the virus goes to sleep in the body, it remains there until something, e.g., emotional or physical stress, triggers it causing an outbreak of blisters or sores. Although the virus is highly contagious during an outbreak, it can still pass to someone else when there are no visible symptoms.
Fact #4: HSV-1 Also Causes Genital Herpes
Genital HSV-1 transmission is possible and can occur through mouth-to-genital contact such as during oral sex. But the virus can be transmitted from mere skin-to-skin contact with the genitals. Similarly, HSV-2 or genital herpes can infect the mouth during oral sex. A 6-year study from 1994-1999 found a growing trend of genital HSV-1 transmission. It also found that genital HSV-1 transmission was higher in women than in men. The risk of mouth-to-genital transmission may be higher if the infected person has herpes sore on or in the mouth during the time of oral contact with the penis, vagina, anus, buttock, or inner thighs.
Fact #5: Most People Who Have the Virus Don’t Know It
Most people with herpes do not know they have it. This is regardless whether the HSV-1 virus infected the mouth or the genitals. The reason for this is the herpes-1 virus is quite sneaky. For one, it can be transmitted even when the virus is inactive and no sores are present. Furthermore, the virus can wake up (reactivate) and cause no symptoms. Therefore, a person is still at risk of catching or transmitting the infection from kissing, oral sex, or skin-to-skin contact.
Fact #6: There is No Cure Once the Virus is Transmitted
HSV-1 causes a lifelong infection once it is transmitted. There is currently no known cure for the infection. It will continue to live in the nerves even without causing any symptoms. However, it can be treated with antiviral medication during flare-ups. Antiviral drugs are also available to suppress the virus to help reduce the number of breakouts and overall HSV-1 transmission rate.
It can be challenging to lower the HSV-1 transmission rate, especially since this viral infection can be transmitted from people who do not know they have it and when the virus is inactive. However, getting tested along with your partner prior to kissing or engaging in oral sex may be one of the most effective ways of avoiding the infection. Using a condom can help prevent the virus from passing during oral sex. However, unprotected genital areas such as the anus, buttock, or testicles can still get infected.