HSV-1 vs. HSV-2: Understanding the Differences

Cover Image for HSV-1 vs. HSV-2: Understanding the Differences
Posted underSexual Health

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a viral infection that exists in two primary forms – HSV-1 and HSV-2. While both are part of the same viral family, they differ in several key aspects, including the areas of the body they usually affect, how they spread, and their prevalence in the population. This article aims to demystify these differences to equip you with the knowledge to better manage your health.

Areas of Impact

HSV-1 is mainly responsible for oral herpes, an infection that causes cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth. However, it can also cause genital herpes through oral-genital contact.

HSV-2, on the other hand, predominantly causes genital herpes, leading to sores or lesions around the genital or rectal areas. While less common, HSV-2 can also cause oral herpes through genital-oral contact.


Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are spread through close personal contact, but the methods of transmission can vary.

  • HSV-1 is often contracted during childhood and can spread through non-sexual contact, such as sharing utensils, lip balm, or through kissing. However, it can also spread to the genital area during oral sex.
  • HSV-2 primarily spreads through sexual contact, which includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It’s important to note that HSV-2 can be transmitted even when sores are not visible, a phase known as viral shedding.


Both types of HSV are widespread, but HSV-1 is more common. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that around 67% of people under the age of 50 globally have HSV-1, while about 13% of people aged 15-49 worldwide have HSV-2. 

Diagnosis and Management

For both HSV-1 and HSV-2, clinical diagnosis based on symptoms can be challenging due to the asymptomatic nature of many HSV infections. However, at Cue, we offer a discreet at-home testing service that can help identify if you have HSV (HSV-1 or HSV-2).

Once diagnosed, management of both HSV-1 and HSV-2 involves similar antiviral medications, including acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir (generic Valtrex). These medications can help reduce the severity, duration, and, when taken daily, frequency of outbreaks.

In conclusion, while HSV-1 and HSV-2 belong to the same viral family, their typical areas of impact, transmission routes, and prevalence in the population are different. Having a clear understanding of these differences can help inform prevention strategies and lead to more effective management of the virus if you are affected.

Remember, staying informed is a key step in taking control of your health. Whether it’s getting tested, ordering medication, or consulting with a clinician through Cue Care, the power to manage HSV effectively is in your hands. Until next time, stay safe and healthy.

This information is presented in summary form, general in nature, and for informational purposes only. Content is not intended nor recommended to substitute for professional medical advice. For personal medical advice, always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. The tests offered are subject to change and subject to availability. Due to state restrictions, this Cue Product is not available for individuals located in the state of New York. Other state restrictions may apply for specific tests. Please refer to our support page for detailed product terms and conditions.


  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
  2. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/herpes-hsv1-and-hsv2/oral-herpes
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/symptoms-causes/syc-20356161
  4. https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/planned-parenthood-advocates-arizona/blog/std-awareness-asymptomatic-shedding-of-herpes
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/acyclovir-oral-route-intravenous-route/description/drg-20068393
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/famciclovir-oral-route/description/drg-20063776
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/valacyclovir-oral-route/description/drg-20066635


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