Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a contagious viral infection estimated to infect 45 million Americans, with as many as 500,000 new cases occurring each year. There are two types of herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 more commonly causes infections around the mouth (cold sores) while HSV-2 more commonly causes genital infections (genital sores). Both types are transmitted by direct contact with body fluids or lesions of an infected individual. Since transmission may still occur when symptoms are not present, many infections go unrecognized by patients and/or clinicians.
The virus invades nerves cells and can reside there for life, causing periodic symptoms. Genital herpes infection is acquired by sexual contact with a partner having an outbreak of herpes sores in the genital area. Oral herpes can be transmitted to the genital area of a partner during oral sex. Some herpes infections may make people more likely to get an HIV infection if exposed to the virus. Reliable tests for HSV antibodies are now readily available. In addition, PCR tests can be used to detect herpes infection.
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