ZocdocAnswersCan oral herpes be transferred to the genitals?

Question

Can oral herpes be transferred to the genitals?

Can oral herpes be transferred to the genitals? My partner and I definitely worry about this. Assuming one of the herpes simplex types is mouth-specific while the other one is genital-specific, how can you tell the difference?

Answer

There are two main types of herpes simplex viruses that cause ulcers: herpes simplex virus 1 and herpes simplex virus 2. Typically, HSV-1 has been associated with oral ulcers, while HSV-2 has been associated with genital ulcers. Now, however, there is more and more evidence that HSV-1 can also be associated with genital ulcers. As such, it is quite likely that infection of the partner can occur quickly. There is no way to distinguish HSV-1 ulcers from HSV-2 ulcers by appearance. The symptoms of herpes simplex virus infection vary from person to person. For example, one partner may have very symptomatic oral ulcers but the same virus in another person may be completely asymptomatic. The first infection with herpes can range from painful ulcers with fever, headache and swollen lymph nodes to completely asymptomatic; many people never even know that they were infected with one or both of the HSVs. Viral shedding is also hard to predict, as shedding of infectious virus has been reported during asymptomatic periods (i.e., infectious virus has been reported to be found when people were completely asymptomatic). As such, this makes it very easy to transmit HSV as there are no outward symptoms that would deter a sexual encounter, etc. If one or both of you have symptomatic HSV outbreaks, treatment with specific antiviral medications can shorten the length of the outbreak. Additionally, taking a specific antiviral on a daily basis can also suppress outbreaks from happening if they occur at a high frequency. Regardless, seeing a primary care physician or, if one exists in your community, a STD clinic can frequent assess the current status and provide recommendations and treatment for frequent disease.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.