Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on October 21, 2011

What are herpes?

I just want to know more about herpes. What is it and how do you catch it? 

answered by
Lisa Oldson, MD on October 21, 2011

Many people are confused about herpes, so I’m glad you asked this question. Here are the basics: 

What is herpes? Herpes is among the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States. 

What causes herpes? Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) that can be passed between people through skin-to-skin contact. 

There are two types of herpes...oral herpes and genital herpes. You may already be familiar with oral herpes ⎼ which causes cold sores ⎼ because more than half of adults in the United States already have an oral herpes infection

Oral herpes is commonly caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (or HSV-1), whereas genital herpes is typically caused by a different strain of the herpes virus (HSV-2). Genital herpes is spread during sexual activity with an infected person, including genital-to-genital touching, as well as vaginal intercourse, anal sex and oral sex. 

Can herpes be cured? No, herpes can’t be cured...but it’s not life-threatening, and it can be treated with medications that help manage the uncomfortable signs and symptoms of herpes.  

To learn more about herpes ⎼ including risks, symptoms, prevention, testing and treatment ⎼ I would encourage you to explore our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2. 

Thanks for your question and I wish you the best of health. 

Related info: 

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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