Herpes simplex (HSV-1, HSV-2)

The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) mainly causes infections in the mouth and facial area ("fever blisters"), whereas the type 2 virus (HSV-2) is predominantly found in the genital region (Herpes genitalis).

Pathogen and transmission

The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) mainly causes infections in the mouth and facial area ("fever blisters"), whereas the type 2 virus (HSV-2) is predominantly found in the genital region (Herpes genitalis). HSV-1 increasingly causes genital infections as well. Fundamentally however, both virus types can be found on all parts of the body. Herpes is transmitted by mucous membrane contact (genital, anal, oral), by contact with infected skin and by smear infections. Transmission from an infected mother to the new born child is likewise possible. A transmission risk exists in spite of the absence of symptoms.

Clinical picture

The symptoms manifest themselves as itchy and stinging blisters, mainly in the mouth, on the lips or in the genital area. Furthermore, painful urination, swollen lymph nodes, fever and increasing localised aches can appear. Infection of the new-born during birth is dangerous but is happily rare in Switzerland. Infections of the cornea of the eye can also occur with some severity. In about 80 % of persons infected with HSV-2 the infection remains asymptomatic.

Herpes is incurable; only a treatment of the symptoms is possible, mostly with anti-viral medicaments. This can diminish the frequency of recurrence and the duration of the relapse.

When the symptoms have been healed the viruses travel into the nerve ends and remain there for life. They are frequently reactivated (with or also without symptoms).

Frequency and distribution

About 70 % of the population carry the herpes virus HSV-1 and 20 % the herpes virus HSV-2. Women are more often afflicted than men are.

Prevention

Do not touch blisters or sores, but if you do, wash your hands thoroughly. During the occurrence of oral herpes, kissing and any type of active oral sex should be forgone. If blisters or sores appear on the genitalia, avoid any type of sex that involves contact with the blisters or sores.

If you suffer from more than six outbreaks a year, discuss with your doctor whether preventive antiviral treatment might be indicated.

Further Information

National Programme for HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections (NPHS)

The NPHS aims to reduce the number of new infections with HIV and other STIs and to avoid consequences with an adverse effect on health. Information on the programme can be found here.

Last modification 22.11.2019

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Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
Division Communicable diseases
Schwarzenburgstrasse 157
3003 Berne
Switzerland
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