October 28th, 2010 | Published in Oral Herpes Overview
Regardless of age, I’m sure you can remember how vicious the high school rumor mill could be. I recall one unfortunate rumor from my day that brought down the reputation of a popular cheerleader: She contracted oral herpes from her much older boyfriend who washed dishes at the local diner. Sure, this cheerleader (let’s call her Jenny) had an apparent cold sore on her lip and likely did have oral herpes, but statistically she probably wasn’t the only one. Oral herpes is very common and isn’t nearly as scandalous as we all thought it was back in high school. There’s a lot of misconception and confusion surrounding this virus, and poor Jenny deserves an apology. But rather than rehashing the past, let’s clear up some confusion about oral herpes.
Oral herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) which is characterized by cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth or facial area. Although classified as a sexually transmitted disease, oral herpes is often contracted as a child by receiving a kiss from a friend or relative or even through sharing a drink. As previously mentioned, it’s a common condition; about 50 to 80 percent of the adult population in the US has oral herpes with as many as 90% having the virus by age 50. Many people are positive with HSV-1 and have never had a cold sore or symptoms.
Much of the confusion surrounding oral herpes stems from its association with genital herpes. Genital herpes, or HSV-2, is spread sexually through direct skin-to-skin contact and causes sore or blisters in the genital area. It is possible to contract oral herpes by performing oral sex on someone who has genital herpes, but it’s very rare. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV-2 which rarely affects the mouth or face. Medication is generally not prescribed for oral herpes, but those experiencing cold sores should not perform oral sex while a lesion is present.
While Jenny could have contracted genital herpes orally, it’s unlikely, and I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. Oral herpes is a common and harmless condition that the majority of the population has. It’s unfortunate that there is a widespread misconception about oral herpes, and young Jenny was persecuted by the high school rumor mill for a virus that will statistically affect the larger population. Basically, here’s the bottom line, upwards of 80-90% of the population has oral herpes regardless of whether symptoms are present. So like Jenny, you too will probably contract oral herpes at some point in your life, but fortunately it’s nothing to worry about.