Herpes Simplex 2 vs. Herpes Simplex 1

The Difference Between Herpes Simplex 2 & Herpes Simplex 1

Have you ever wondered what the real difference is between herpes simplex 2  (HSV-2) and herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1)?

I have spent the past four years as the educational coordinator for the Colorado H Club answering questions like this every day. Genetically speaking, the two viruses are about 85% the same and the symptoms they produce are exactly the same too. The main herpes symptoms are blisters, itching, pain, tingling, redness, fever, and numbness, but 85% of people who have the virus don’t even know it! There are other symptoms associated with the virus, but none of them cause any other diseases or illnesses. This is one of the reasons many doctors don’t deem it necessary to include herpes as part of a standard STD panel.

Herpes Simplex 1 and Herpes Simplex 2 are the two types of herpes simplex viruses. Some of the other members of this virus family, Herpes Viridae, cause Mono, Shingles, Chicken pox, Roseola and a few others.

Did you know that HSV-1 is the virus that causes cold sores? Yes. That’s right! Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus. Unfortunately, Herpes Simplex 2 has received the most amount of stigma over the years because it is the number one cause of genital herpes. 

Let’s look at some of the main differences between the two viruses:      

Genetics: 85% the same      
Herpes Viridae Family: Both Herpes Simplex Viruses      
Environment: HSV-1 prefers the environment of the oral/facial area of the body, HSV-2 prefers the genital area      
Cold Sores: HSV-1 is the strain of the virus that causes cold sores      
Frequency of Outbreak– HSV-1 outbreaks genitally tend to be less frequent      
Intensity: HSV-1 outbreaks genitally tend to be more mild      
Transmission: HSV-1 can be found genitally and orally, but HSV-2 is not found orally (only 1% incidence rate)
Triggers: both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are triggered by the same things i.e.. heat, UV, friction… Let us know if you found this information helpful.

If you have more questions about how to live and date with herpes and how to discover love again, check out our in-depth resources here. www.PinkTent.com    


  1. lucy says:

    The person I was with who I assume gave this to me had never had any symptoms in the boxer shorts region. The morning after we had sex I was very sore, and three days later I had blisters down there. I went to doctor, diagnosed with HSV-2. When I asked the guy about it, he was shocked and said he had never had any symptoms. I asked him if he had cold sores, and he said yes and they got really bad for two weeks. He feels really bad, because he wasn’t having an outbreak when I got it, He said he had sliced his lip with his fingernail earlier that week but had no idea he was contagious. He had never been diagnosed with anything. So, I guess he was just the 1% that had HSV-2 on his lip? And he gave it to me with oral sex? Is that possible if he only had a cut on his lip?

    I have a few important questions: Do I have to be worried about getting that on my lips now? What if I am that 1%? If we both have HSV-2, is it 100% impossible for him to spread it to me in a specific location? How long do I have to wait since contracting this until we are not contagious to each other? Should I ask him to get tested for HSV-1?

    • Dr. Kelly says:

      I highly doubt that you contracted HSV2 genitally from your boyfriend’s cut on his lip. I would have him get tested for both HSV1 and HSV2. That way, you know what you are dealing with. It is possible that he has HSV2 genitally and never had any symptoms that he was aware of. 85% of people with HSV2 do not know they have it and this is more likely the case. If you both have HSV1 and HSV2, you will not be passing it back and forth with one another.
      Live. Love. Thrive.
      Dr. Kelly

  2. BCM08 says:

    I need to tell my story to someone…
    I was married for 18 years and then separated from my husband. During the separation he was involved with someone. We later reconciled, but I requested that he be tested for STDs before reconciliation. He was tested for everything except Herpes. In December I became extremely ill and ended up in Urgent Care. Three days later I received a call with my test results and I was devastated. At the time I was still quite ill and couldn’t focus on what this would mean for my life…I simply wanted to feel better. The doctor prescribed Valtrex and eventually I started to feel better. I have since however had outbreaks every month. Although they are not as bad as the first one living with this every day from a physical perspective has been challenging. For the past month, I have had numbness, tingling and pain in my rear area every single day and with most outbreaks I have blisters.

    Not only have I been struggling with this physically, it has taken an incredible emotional toll on me. I live in constant fear of somehow infecting my child. I am constantly washing my hands, disinfecting everything in the house, etc. I question every single thing I do…every moment of physical contact with my son…in fear that I have somehow infected him. I have questioned every single thing I have done before I found out I had herpes and everything since and wondered..OMG did any of my actions infect my son. I have become completely paranoid and an emotional wreck. This disease has impacted my ability to be a Mother to my child.

    One of the problems with this virus is I do not completely understand it. I have read many things and it leaves me confused. I have read that the virus sheds on the skin..does this mean that the top layer of my skin is contagious? Since I always have symptoms (constant tingling even when there are no bumps) does this mean that I am always contagious?

    As I mentioned I have had symptoms (tingling, burning, pain, but no bumps) for the past month. Because my body is now behaving differently I no longer know what is caused by herpes and what is not. To further understand the world of paranoia I live in I’d like to share this….

    The other day my lower thigh where I have never had any symptoms at all was itching and irritated. It felt almost like I had been bitten by a bug so I scratched it. Quite some time later in the day (maybe an hour..maybe more) my son came to me with a pimple that he had on his nose that was irritating him. I ended up popping the pimple and then immediately thought…was the virus on my hand from earlier when I scratched my leg and did I infect him. I immediately went and washed his face. I could not remember how long it had been since I had scratched my leg and if I had washed my hands in between the two incidents. Sadly, because I rethink every single thing that I do now, I lose track of things that I have or have not done. A few weeks ago he had a single tiny blister on the back of his calf. Immediately I thought that he had herpes, perhaps from laying in my bed. While this all may sound crazy to some the paranoia and fear have completely consumed my life.

    Lastly I would like to add that my ex-husband did not know that he had herpes, however he did not take many precautions to protect himself. His symptoms have always been very mild or non-existent. It was only after I got sick that he went and got tested. The person that he contracted it from was very much aware that she had herpes and had an obligation to share this information. To this day she still denies having herpes or knowing anything at all about the situation. I think it takes a very ugly person to do this. Not only did this person destroy my family, I am now left with a disease that I will have for the rest of my life. It is my hope that in time I will be able to deal with this better for today it has both emotionally and physically changed my life in a very negative way.

  3. vera says:

    Dr. kelly i was diagnosed with hsv1 through a blood test, negative for HSV2. I am quite sure it is genital herpes instead of oral herpes because i had outbreak on my genitals . It have been one year since my diagnosis but i keep getting outbreak and i have missed my period for 6 months. Im feeling burned and crashed with the giver because with condom use, i wont even get it

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