What is Herpes, and what are the two types?
Herpes is a viral disease caused by Herpes Simplex Viruses (HSV). Herpes is most easily transmitted by direct contact with a visible sore, but transmission can occur from an infected partner who does not have a visible sore and may not know that he or she is infected.
There are two types of Herpes and they have very original names: Herpes Simplex 1 and Herpes Simplex 2.
Herpes Type 1, what historically has been oral herpes, infects the face and mouth with 'cold sores' or 'fever blisters'. It's not unusual for someone to have contracted HSV-1 sometime as early as childhood.
Herpes Type 2 has historically infects the genitals with blister-like sores. The herpes virus causes blisters that can last from 2 to 21 days before entering a remission period.
CURRENT DAY: With the increase in unprotected oral sex, it's becoming more common to find HSV-1 on the genital area and HSV-2 being found in the mouth and throat.
GOOD NEWS: Herpes is not a life threatening disease and it is only skin-deep. HSV-1 outbreaks occur less frequently than HSV-2 outbreaks. And, while there is no cure for Herpes, there are medications that help to manage the symptoms.
BAD NEWS: Even though the sores can disappear, the virus is still present in your sensory nerves and you can still spread it, so you should be sure to talk with any sexual partner prior to skin-to-skin contact so you are both able to make decisions about what methods of protection you will use. Additionally, persons with herpes should abstain from sexual activity with uninfected partners when lesions or other symptoms of herpes are present.
Protection options: Of course, refraining from skin-to-skin contact is the best way to protect yourself, but if you're sexually active, your best choices are Condoms (to cover the penis) and Dental Dams (to cover the vulva and anus). Use them correctly and CONSISTENTLY during each sexual contact. They're not 100% effective, but they are your best option!
Again, a great resource on this topic is the CDC's Factsheet on Herpes.