What is Herpes 1 and 2?

Written by

Lauren Dobischok
12 December, 2022

Medically checked article All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Herpes 1 and 2 are the two types of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes 1 (HSV-1) can cause cold sores around the mouth or blisters on the genitals, and Herpes 2 (HSV-2) causes genital herpes. HSV is one of the most common viruses in humans and is present all over the world. An estimated 67% of the world’s population has HSV-1, while an estimated 13% have HSV-2 (WHO, 2022).

What is herpes?

Herpes is an umbrella term for diseases caused by the herpes simplex virus, such as HSV-1 and HSV-2. These viruses usually cause painful blisters and sores. 

What is the difference between herpes 1 and herpes 2?

HSV-1, or herpes labialis, is an infection of the mucous membranes and mainly affects the lips and mouth, causing blisters known as cold sores. HSV-1 can also infect the genitals from oral-genital contact. HSV-2, or genital herpes, affects the genital area only, and can not be spread to the mouth or lips (Johns Hopkins, 2021). 

How common is herpes?

Herpes occurs all over the world and is one of the most common viruses in humans. More than half of adults are carriers of at least one type of HSV, as the virus remains in your body for life. In the Netherlands, nearly thirty thousand diagnoses of genital herpes were made in 2020, of which almost three-quarters are women (RIVM, 2022). Most people who have genital herpes visit a general practitioner or sexual health clinic for diagnosis. However, it is also possible to perform a home test, such as with Homed-IQ’s STI Test Comprehensive, which tests for herpes 1 and 2 along with six other common STIs.

Who can get herpes?

Anyone can get herpes as the herpes simplex virus is highly contagious and can be spread through both sexual and non-sexual contact. There is no vaccine against herpes.

What are the symptoms of herpes?

Oral herpes usually causes initial symptoms of redness and a slight swelling on or around the lips and mouth. After the initial phase, painful, fluid-filled blisters will appear and eventually pop, becoming sores. After a few days, the sores will crust over and heal (Planned Parenthood). 

Genital herpes causes painful blisters on and around the vagina, penis, anus, bottom, or thighs. It may also cause muscle pain, fever or swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms of genital herpes in women include tingling, itching, or pain around the vagina or bottom, or increased vaginal discharge (Planned Parenthood).

It is important to note that not everyone who has become infected with herpes will have symptoms, and the virus may be dormant for long periods of time before symptoms occur. An initial herpes outbreak usually occurs 2 to 20 days after being infected, but may not occur for years (Planned Parenthood). The first outbreak of herpes is usually more severe and long-lasting than subsequent outbreaks, lasting 2 to 4 weeks. Future outbreaks usually clear up after a week or two. 

Herpes infections are sometimes mistaken for other conditions affecting the mouth or genitals. To be sure whether you have herpes or not, consider getting tested.

How is herpes spread?

Herpes is mainly transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with sores or blisters. Oral herpes is usually spread through kissing, and cannot be spread through sharing drinks or dishes. Genital herpes is usually spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex or close skin-to-skin contact. Herpes is most likely to be spread when an individual is having an outbreak, but also can be transmitted without any symptoms present (Johns Hopkins, 2021).

Testing for herpes

It is possible to undergo a herpes test at your GP or at a sexual health clinic. Testing for herpes  usually involves a physical exam if blisters are present, as well as a swab or blood test. If you prefer to test anonymously for herpes without visiting a clinic, it is possible to perform a blood test from home with Homed-IQ’s STI Test Comprehensive. This test checks for eight common STIs, including HSV-1 and HSV-2. A blood test for herpes should be administered at least three weeks, but ideally twelve weeks after a potential infection,

Is herpes contagious?

Yes, herpes is highly contagious. This is one of the reasons why the virus is so common worldwide. Any skin-to-skin contact can transmit herpes, so it is even possible for the infection to be transmitted during safe sex in areas condoms or other barriers do not cover (CDC). Herpes can also be spread if you touch the sores with your fingers and then touch another part of your face or body. This is why it is important to wash your hands after any contact with blisters on yourself.

Treating herpes

It is not always necessary to treat herpes, because the symptoms often go away on their own. However, treatment can reduce the discomfort of symptoms and make them resolve faster. For example, analgesic creams can reduce the itching and burning of blisters. Some people opt to take daily antiviral medications to reduce the amount and severity of outbreaks, or reduce the chance of passing the virus to a partner (Mayo Clinic, 2022).

Preventing herpes

As herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact, the best way to avoid herpes is to avoid contact with other people’s mouths or genitals. As most people will kiss or have sex during their lives, steps to prevent herpes risk can be taken. These steps include:

  • Don’t kiss anyone if you have a cold sore- especially babies, children, or pregnant women
  • Always use condoms or other barriers during sex
  • Do not have sex if you have a herpes outbreak, or feel one is about to begin
  • Wash your hands if you touch existing blisters
  • Discuss the use of antiviral medications with your doctor

Source: Planned Parenthood


Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Genital Herpes: the facts.

Genital Herpes. (2021, August 8). Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Genital herpes – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. (2022, November 22).

Herpes genitalis. (2022, June 6).

Herpes simplex virus. (2022, March 10).

How Do You Prevent Herpes? | Prevention Tips. (n.d.). Planned Parenthood.

About the author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator currently living in the Netherlands. Originally from Canada, she completed a Research Master’s in Health Sciences at the Netherlands Institute of Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam (NIHES) with a specialisation in epidemiology. Prior to her master’s degree, she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. With a background in public health, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and empowers people to make informed decisions. Within Homed-IQ, Lauren works as a Product Developer and Content Lead, working closely with physicians and scientists on medical devices for Homed-IQ’s new products and written communications.