When someone has contracted herpes, it can be either HSV-1 (herpes type 1) or HSV-2 (herpes type 2). The “HSV” is an acronym for “Herpes Simplex Virus.” The general difference between the two types of herpes is that type 1 refers to oral herpes and type 2 refers to genital herpes. This means the symptoms of type 1 would be cold sores forming in the area around your mouth, while the symptoms of type 2 would be cold sores forming around your genital area.
When you look at both types of herpes strains under a microscope, they look nearly identical to each other. The severity of the symptoms caused by them is also similar, despite the popular belief that HSV-2 is worse. The big difference between them is where they exist and become latent in the body. HSV-1 infects the nerve cells on the bottom of the neck while HSV-2 infects the nerve cells on the bottom of the spine. From these locations, they affect the mouth and the genitals; respectively.
It is easier to contract HSV-1 because you don’t need to have sexual intercourse to get it. Aside from having oral sex, you can contract HSV-1 from merely kissing someone else who is infected or putting something in your mouth that they touched with their saliva. For example, if you eat with a kitchen utensil they used or brush your teeth with their toothbrush, then HSV-1 could spread to your mouth area that way. As for HSV-2, it is usually obtained by having sexual intercourse with an infected person, which is why the symptoms of this virus affect the genital area.
HSV-2 is not known to spread like HSV-1. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get HSV-2 in other areas of the body. For example, if someone performs oral sex on a partner with HSV-2, that person will likely get HSV-2 in their mouth area. The same scenario can be said about HSV-1. If the person performing the oral sex has HSV-1, they could infect their partner’s genitals with HSV-1.
With that being said, HSV-1 can become HSV-2 and vice versa. It all depends on which area of your body the virus gets exposed to. The chances of obtaining symptoms from the virus are still the same. Some people with either virus will get cold sores while others won’t get them for many years. Overall, the symptoms will come and go for the rest of your life. The best thing that can be done is to control the symptoms with regular treatments.
Which is Worse?
There is a common perception that HSV-1 is not as serious as HSV-2. Since HSV-1 tends to be a mild infection, then this is true for the most part. However, if the virus were to spread away from the mouth toward another area, like the eye or the brain, then you will have a big problem. Ocular herpes caused by HSV-1 can leave you with total blindness. If it ends up in the brain and gives you herpes encephalitis, then it could cause you to die. Therefore, the symptoms of HSV-1 need to be controlled as soon as you’ve been diagnosed.
Aside from the risk of HSV-1 spreading, no virus is worse than the other. You will still get cold sores that are red and painful, regardless of which one you have. But if you care about where you get the cold sores, then you might prefer one over the other. For example, HSV-2 might feel uncomfortable and painful around your genital area but at least you can cover up the appearance of the red cold sores with clothes. People who suffer the symptoms of HSV-1 have to carry those cold sores around their mouth area. Although you could try to cover them up with makeup, the sores will still be visible to everyone in public. This could create emotional feelings of embarrassment and low self-confidence in the affected person. Consequently, this is just one more reason why HSV-1 can be deemed as worse.
Which is more common?
Statistics have shown that HSV-1 is more common than HSV-2. According to recent data, as many as 90% of adults in the United States have been exposed to HSV-1. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they all have cold sores on their mouths but it does mean their DNA has been exposed to the virus. The data also shows that 45% of adults have HSV-2, which includes 20% of men and 25% of women.
Now, why would HSV-1 be more common? The answer is simple, it is easier to contract HSV-1 from another person. Remember that you don’t need to have sex with someone else to give them HSV-1. You just need to be exposed to something that their saliva touched, like cups and toothbrushes. Even innocent children could become the victims of HSV-1 from this. And since HSV-1 is really more serious, then more precautions need to be made by an infected person to protect the people around them from getting exposed to their virus.