Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Facts

Analyte Physicians Group

What is type 1 herpes (HSV-1)?

HSV-1 is the virus that causes cold sores or fever blisters. If you have ever had a cold sore, even as a child, you will probably test positive for HSV-1. 58% of people in the U.S. are positive for HSV-1, and many never experience symptoms. About half of Americans test positive for HSV-1 by age 30. They may have had herpes for years—even decades—without knowing it.

What are the symptoms of type 1 herpes?

HSV-1 doesn’t always cause symptoms. If you do get a cold sore, it may start with a tingling, itching, or burning on the skin, usually on the lips, but in some cases on the genitals. Tiny blisters show up and quickly break open, causing a painful sore which eventually scabs over. Fortunately, the sore goes away without treatment. Some people get cold sores once a month and some will only get one in their life. It’s most common to have outbreaks 2-3 times a year. A sore can take a week or two to heal without medication.

Can type 1 herpes be treated?

Many people with HSV-1 don’t need treatment because they have few or no symptoms. Prescription medicines work well to help with discomfort and speed up healing of cold sores. In cases where someone has a genital HSV-1 infection, there are effective medication options for managing the infection. If a person has a genital HSV-1 infection, and isn’t sexually active or experiencing symptoms, there is no reason to take medication. Any new genital sores should be examined by a doctor.

Is type 1 herpes contagious and how can it be prevented?

Herpes is contagious, but it's possible for one person in a family to have it, while the others don't. Herpes is spread through direct skin to skin contact like kissing. HSV-1 can be spread even when you don't have a cold sore although it is more contagious when a sore is present. Most people are exposed to HSV-1 in childhood through a friendly kiss. If you have a cold sore, don't put your mouth on your partner's genitals or they could get a genital HSV-1 infection.

Will type 1 herpes affect my ability to have children?

Having type 1 herpes won't impact your ability to get pregnant or get your partner pregnant. If you're pregnant, you'll need to talk with your doctor if you ( or your partner ) have genital herpes or cold sores. Getting a new genital herpes infection during pregnancy can be dangerous for the baby, especially if it occurs during the last trimester. Routine prenatal care will help you avoid problems.

What does my type 1 herpes test result mean?

Some lab tests have a simple positive or negative result. Some tests give a numeric value to label your result as positive or negative. Positive means there is an infection, and negative means there is not. Equivocal results are in between.

Even the best medical tests can be frustrating because there is not always a crystal clear answer. We can't say that you're positive for herpes when your result is equivocal, but at the same time, we can't say you're negative either. It's possible to have herpes with outbreaks, even if you have an equivocal result. It is also possible to have an equivocal result and never have an outbreak or transmit herpes to others because you don't actually have herpes.

How can I keep myself healthy with herpes?

If you do have herpes outbreaks, you may be able to identify triggers that lead to outbreaks. Some people identify sun exposure, stress, nuts and other factors as triggers and avoid these triggers. It's also important to eat healthy, exercise and take care of yourself. Condom use can reduce the risk of getting or spreading STDs, including type 1 and type 2 herpes.

Glossary of Key Terms
EQUIVOCAL This result is not firmly positive, but it’s not clearly negative.
INDETERMINATE This result is not firmly positive, but it's not clearly negative.
< Less than sign
> Greater than sign
TNP Test Not Processed. If you see this in your results, you should have also been notified via email with instructions to complete your test.