Genital Herpes Causes
Two types of herpes simplex viruses can lead to genital herpes. Causes of the sexually transmitted disease include HSV-1 and HSV-2. While genital herpes is generally spread through sexual intercourse and oral sex, the virus can also be passed from mother to child during delivery. Understanding genital herpes causes and knowing how the viruses are spread can be helpful in preventing infection.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by one of two types of herpes simplex viruses:
- Herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1)
- Herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2).
Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2. HSV-1 is the cause of herpes sores on the lips and in the mouth (often called fever blisters or cold sores), but it also causes up to 30 percent of genital herpes cases.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2) are both double-stranded DNA viruses that are part of the herpes family of viruses known as Herpesviridae. There are eight types of viruses in the herpes family known to cause infection in humans. Besides HSV-1 and HSV-2, other common herpes viruses include:
- Varicella-zoster virus (the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles)
- Epstein-Barr virus (the virus that causes mononucleosis and other infections).
HSV-1 and HSV-2 are quite similar to each other, sharing about 50 percent of the same genes. These two types of herpes viruses can cause a variety of infections affecting the skin, mucous membranes (which is the inner lining of many bodily structures, including the mouth, anus, vagina, and urethra), central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and occasionally other organs. The specific herpes symptoms a person experiences when infected will depend on:
- The site of infection
- The person's age
- The type of virus
- Whether the immune system is working normally.
With genital herpes, HSV can cause sores (lesions) to appear in and around the vaginal area and within the cervix in women, and on the penis and scrotum in men. Both males and females may also get lesions in the urinary tract, around the anal opening, on the buttocks or thighs, and sometimes on other parts of the body.