What Is Herpes Simplex?
With the different names for herpes, you might be wondering, "What is herpes simplex?" Herpes simplex is the virus that causes herpes. There are two different types of herpes: Type I (also called oral herpes) and Type II (also called genital herpes). The herpes virus is characterized by painful lesions, similar to blisters. You can have one or many lesions around the infected area. A 2005 study conducted by the Center for Disease Control estimates approximately 80 percent of individuals will test positive for Type I and 16 percent will test positive for Type II.
Type I herpes simplex causes lesions on or around the mouth. These lesions occur during what are called "outbreaks" and can last anywhere from two to four weeks. The outbreaks vary in length and severity in each individual. Some people have only a few "outbreaks" and then the virus becomes dormant, while others are plagued with frequent outbreaks. Type I can be contracted by coming into contact with an infected person (e.g. kissing or sharing a drink).
Type II herpes simplex causes lesions around (and sometimes inside) the genitals. Like Type I herpes simplex, Type II can vary in severity and frequency of outbreaks from person to person. If your immune system is compromised from stress or another infection, it will increase the likelihood that you will have an outbreak. Type II can be spread by sexual contact (oral, anal or vaginal).
Herpes simplex can be diagnosed with a blood test. If you are experiencing what you believe to be symptoms of the herpes virus, you can have one of the lesions biopsied by your doctor. There are different medications available to reduce symptoms and frequency of outbreaks, but there is no "cure" for the herpes virus (this is true for both type I and type II). You can still be infected with the herpes simplex virus, even if you have not experienced an outbreak. This is why it is important to get tested when you are with a new partner or if your partner has tested positive for the virus.