What Is HSV-1?

HSV-1 stands for herpex simplex virus (HSV) type 1. It is the virus that is most often responsible for oral herpes, or what is commonly referred to as cold sores or fever blisters. While HSV-1 usually infects the mouth and lips, it can also spread to the genital area as a result of oral sex. But typically, oral herpes manifests as sores on the lips, gums, tongue, the soft palate or roof of the mouth, and the insides of the cheeks. Sometimes, the sores appear on the face or neck. The sores are painful, and may be accompanied by fever and muscle aches. Other possible symptoms of oral herpes are:

Itchiness, pain or a burning sensation on the site of infection prior to the appearance of sores
Pain and shallow ulcers in the throat area
A grayish coating on the tonsils
Flu-like symptoms
Swollen lymph nodes on the neck, which may be painful
Crusted, scabbed, yellowish spots when the sores dry up

Most of these symptoms last two to three weeks. They are usually experienced two to twelve days after contact with the virus. For most people, the symptoms appear four days after exposure. The sores are most painful when they first appear, and they may make it hard for the person to eat, drink and swallow. When the sores appear on the gums, they take on an angry red color, and they tend to bleed. These sores are also called herpes gingivostomatitis.

In many people with HSV-1, the symptoms are absent or very mild, and therefore hardly noticeable. As a result, the person may not even be aware that he has oral herpes. This is called an asymptomatic or symptom-less infection.

When people ask “What is HSV-1?” they usually want to make a distinction between this virus and HSV-2. The two are subtypes of the same virus. The main difference is that HSV-1 mainly causes oral herpes, while HSV-2 mainly causes genital herpes. However, it is possible, as mentioned, for HSV-1 to infect the genital area when the person has oral sex. It is also possible for HSV-2 to cause oral lesions, but these cases are not very common.

In answer to “What is HSV-1?”, it may also be stated that the herpes-1 virus can infect children and adolescents, while HSV-2 usually infects grown-ups. The reason for this lies in the transmission modes of the viruses. HSV-1 is contracted when someone touches infected saliva, skin or mucous membranes. It is highly contagious and easily contracted from kissing or touching, such as when a child kisses an infected parent or older relative. Meanwhile, HSV-2 is mainly spread through sexual contact, hence adults are the usual victims.

Both oral and genital herpes have no cure. They are a life-long infection. It is estimated that about 65% of all Americans have HSV-1 infection, but it is latent or asymptomatic in the majority of cases. Statistics suggest that there are twice as many asymptomatic cases of HSV-1 infection as there are cases with symptoms. For the latter, the infection can recur with the usual symptoms due to certain “triggers,” which include stress, illness, trauma, fatigue, fever, immune suppression, and hormonal changes.

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