April 17th, 2011 | Published in STD Testing
Despite its widespread nature, the herpes simplex virus continues to be somewhat of a mystery in the eyes of the public. While many people are familiar with the notion of oral versus genital herpes, certain assumptions about the disease have contributed to its countrywide spread. Though the genital version of herpes is generally regarded as the virus’s most feared form, oral herpes is very common.
How Many People Have Oral Herpes?
It’s estimated between 50 and 80 percent of the U.S. adult population has oral herpes. Furthermore, data indicates 90 percent of people will contract oral herpes by the time they reach age 50. Many individuals acquire the disease during childhood, as it's possible to contract the STD by kissing an infected individual.
How is Oral Herpes Transmitted?
Oral herpes is passed from person-to-person via direct contact. When an infected person is experiencing a cold sore - also known as a herpes outbreak - the disease can be spread. However, oral herpes can also be transmitted without visible signs and symptoms of a herpes outbreak. There are certain phases of the disease during which asymptomatic shedding occurs; when this happens, the virus becomes active without causing physical symptoms.
Can Oral Herpes Cause Genital Herpes?
Much of the confusion surrounding the herpes disease stems from the assumption that contact with oral herpes can only, in a worst-case scenario, result in an additional instance of oral herpes infection. However, oral herpes can manifest genitally under certain circumstances. If a person infected with oral herpes engages in oral sex, then the recipient runs the risk of contracting herpes in genital form.
Symptoms of Oral Herpes
Oral herpes symptoms do not always surface, and when they do, they are often mild enough to go unnoticed. When symptoms are present, they tend to appear in the form of cold sores (also known as fever blisters) around the lips and mouth, which are often recognizable by their red, blistering nature. While cold sores will generally go away on their own, medication is available to expedite the healing process. If an oral herpes outbreak is suspected, then an infected individual should abstain from performing oral sex until all symptoms have cleared.
Managing Oral Herpes
Some people with oral herpes will never become aware of their infected status. For others, cold sores can be recurrent and disruptive to daily life. Suppressive therapy is available to reduce the likelihood of future oral herpes episodes, though the frequency of outbreaks will generally diminish naturally over time. Additionally, certain factors, such as exposure to direct sunlight and unusual stress, can trigger oral herpes outbreaks.