Can HSV-1 in the mouth be transferred to other body parts?
I know that HSV-1 can be transmitted to the lips or genitals of one’s partner. But is there a risk that the virus could be passed to other body parts, like the breasts or neck during foreplay and intercourse? And, what is the likelihood of spreading oral herpes through kissing if no symptoms are present?
Those a great questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
First, you’re right... HSV-1 (herpes simplex virus type 1) is infectious to both the mouth and genital areas. HSV-1 causes most cases of oral herpes, and it can also cause genital herpes.
So if you have oral herpes and you kiss a partner, or you give your partner oral sex, you run the risk of passing the virus to your partner’s mouth or genitals...even with no symptoms, and even if you practice safer sex (although using condoms and dental dams helps reduce the risk of transmission by 30-50%).
Put another way, oral herpes can be spread through mouth-to-genital contact and mouth-to-mouth contact (especially through full, open-mouth kissing).
Only in rare cases could an HSV-1 oral infection be transmitted to the breasts or neck. For example, if nipple sucking gets aggressive, the skin can break...and if that happens, the virus can be transmitted from the mouth of the infected person through the broken skin around the nipple area. Same thing with the neck area...unless the skin breaks during aggressive foreplay activities, it’s unlikely that HSV-1 would be transmitted in this way.
What about intercourse? No, oral herpes would never be transmitted through intercourse. That’s because the part of the body that’s infected (in this case, the mouth) needs to come into contact with a “vulnerable” part of the body of the uninfected partner (usually their mouth or genitals) in order for transmission to occur.
One more thing...if both people in a sexual relationship have HSV-1, whether they have symptoms or not, there’s no reason to worry about transmitting HSV-1. In other words, you can’t get re-infected with a virus that you already have.
If you’re not sure if your partner already has HSV-1, a blood test can screen for both types of the virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2). For more detailed information about herpes symptoms, transmission, prevention, testing and treatment, see our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2.
Thanks again for writing, and I wish you good health.
Warren is a Nurse Practitioner and owner of Westover Heights Clinic in Oregon. She is a renown expert and author in the field of genital herpes research, diagnosis and treatment. Warren was educated at Oregon Health and Sciences University and the University of Portland.