While HSV can be a frustrating and painful condition for some people, in general the virus is less a medical problem than a social problem.
For most of us, genital herpes is no more dangerous than a cold sore. Just how much of a physical problem HSV poses for a person depends largely on three factors.
However, both types can recur and spread even when no symptoms are present.
The primary difference between the two viral types is in where they typically establish latency in the body- their "site of preference." HSV-1 usually establishes latency in the trigeminal ganglion, a collection of nerve cells near the ear.
Following the unspoken assumptions of our society, many people still believe there is a "good" herpes virus-HSV- 1, the usual cause of cold sores-and a "bad" herpes virus-HSV-2, the usual cause of genital herpes.
In this feature, we take a look at HSV- 1 and 2 to see how alike and different the two viral types really are.
"People don't understand that you can have type 1 genitally or orally, that the two types are essentially the same virus,' says Marshall Clover, manager of the National Herpes Hotline." One type is associated with stigma, the other is "'just a cold sore"- our society has a euphemism for it so we don't even have to acknowledge that it's herpes.'' The common myth is that HSV-1 causes a mild infection that is occasionally bothersome, but never dangerous. HSV-1 is usually mild, especially when it infects the lips, face, or genitals.By the time they're adults, only some 5% of people are bothered enough to consider oral HSV-1 a medical problem, according to Spruance.On the other hand, almost all of the approximately 40 million Americans infected with HSV-2 acquired the virus as teenagers or adults.It is the most common cause of neonatal herpes, a rare but dangerous infection in newborns; however, type 1 causes up to one-third of neonatal infections.The two types do behave somewhat differently depending on whether they are residing in their site of preference-the mouth and face for HSV-1, and the genital area for HSV-2."This is heresy, but I think type 1 is a more significant infection than type 2," says Spotswood Spruance, MD, an oral HSV specialist at the University of Utah.