Is Herpes Always Genital or Oral?
This is such a great question. I still get people who are shocked at the fact that both HSV 1 and 2 can go to either location.
If that came as a surprise to you let me then explain.
Traditionally we believed that HSV1 was only oral herpes and it could only be oral herpes and that was the good type of herpes. At the same time we believed that genital herpes was always HSV2 and it would only stay in the genital region and it was the bad kind. Firstly, there is no good or bad kind of herpes. And secondly, both types can go to both locations.
So back to the original question and topic, can herpes only be oral or genital? Well, it can actually go anywhere on your body. But before you freak out, take a deep breath and let me explain.
There are 4 common areas where the HSV1 or HSV2 virus can go; oral, genital, on your hands and in your eyes. The herpes on your hands is called herpetic whitlow and herpes in your eyes is called ocular herpes. Something that I get asked is will the virus type change when it goes to a new location? Once the virus is in your body it will not change types. So for example, if you have oral HSV1 and transmit it to your hands that would still be HSV1.
Let's talk about how common it is to get herpes on your hands or in your eyes.
Herpetic whitlow is not common at all, it impacts about 2.5% or 100,000 people annually. This was pretty common for dentists to get it on their hands before they were wearing gloves.
Ocular herpes infects about 50,000 people annually and can be serious if it goes untreated. To give us a reference, there are over 500,000 new HSV2 infections annually in the US and where I couldn't find the exact number of people who are infected with HSV1 annually we know that 2/3 people are living with that type.
So if we have herpes somewhere on our body does that mean that we're going to pass it to other parts of our bodies?
Once you have the antibodies in your system you cannot reinfect yourself with the same herpes virus. So if you have HSV1 on some part of your body you're not going to suddenly pass it to your genitals. The catch here is once you have the antibodies. It can take your body a couple of weeks up to a couple of months for the antibodies to show up.
On another note, and I like to make sure I bring this up as an example because we don't want to unintentionally transmit it to other peoples body parts. I mentioned early that it can go really any place on your body. So if there is an opening then the virus will go there. Here's an example, if my son who does not have herpes falls down and scrapes his knee. Let's say I have an outbreak on my mouth and kiss his scraped knee where my HSV1 oral outbreak would come into contact with his open wound there could be a huge chance that he could then develop HSV1 on his knee.
With all of this information, I want it to be educational and not get us to the OMG let's freak out and think that we can't touch anything or kiss anybody or that we're never going to have sex again. All of this is not true. This is just education so that we can be aware and understand how the virus transmits.
If you are new to the entire herpes thing I encourage you to learn more so that we don't go down the rabbit whole. I have a free PDF download that talks about what I wish I had known before I was diagnosed with herpes. It talks about herpes, ways to prevent outbreaks and much more.
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