Herpes simplex virus 1 and herpes simplex virus 2 affect both the mouth and genital regions. These viruses produce painful sores that typically go away after a few weeks and occasionally recur at irregular intervals. Herpes rarely produces any medically serious conditions, but can cause great discomfort. Understanding the basics of how herpes is contracted can help to prevent the spread of this virus.
Sexual contact is the most common way to spread genital herpes, or herpes simplex virus 2, says the American Social Health Association. While direct genital-to-genital contact proves the most likely manner in which genital herpes is transmitted, genital herpes can also be passed on through oral sexual activity as well as simple touching of the genitals. Genital herpes is most likely spread from an infected person just before or during a herpes outbreak when herpes sores are present on the infected individual. Interestingly, however, the American Academy of Dermatology explains that a large number of genital herpes cases are contracted from infected individuals that display no symptoms of herpes.
The American Academy of Dermatology explains that oral herpes, or herpes simple virus 1, is typically contracted early on in childhood from relatives who have become infected with the virus. Oral herpes is commonly spread from family members to their children through the sharing of food. Herpes can also spread through the sharing of utensils or drinking glasses. In more rare cases, sharing of toothbrushes can also spread the herpes virus.
Any type of mouth-to-mouth contact with a herpes-infected individual can spread the herpes virus. Prolonged kissing during romantic and sexual encounters can readily spread herpes, particularly during a herpes outbreak or flare-up. Children and infants can also contract herpes from their parents and family members through kisses.
The American Society of Dermatology mentions that oral and genital herpes can also be contracted through sharing body towels with infected individuals. According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, however, the herpes virus cannot survive very long outside of the body and it proves very rare to contract herpes from a towel or toilet seat.
Herpes can also spread from a mother to a newborn child through the process of childbirth. The Center for Young Women's Health at Children's Hospital Boston explains that women who acquire herpes close to the time they give birth will most likely to spread herpes to their newborn child. Herpes can pose a number of complications to an infant. Pregnant women should tell their doctors about any history of herpes or herpes-related symptoms.