A long-lasting infection with symptoms that come and go, herpes is caused by two types of highly contagious herpes simplex viruses (HSV).
HSV-1 is responsible for cold sores and is also known as recurrent herpes labialis while HSV-2, leads to the sexually transmitted disease referred to as genital herpes.
Although troublesome due to frequent recurrences over the years, herpes infections are usually benign conditions though they can be severe and pose potentially life-threatening complications in predisposed individuals.
As the two diseases have distinctive characteristics, they will be addressed in two separate articles. This one deals exclusively with HSV-1.
HSV-1 infection is found in more than 90 per cent of the population in any given country. The vast majority of infected individuals have no symptoms or signs of the illness and unknowingly transmit the virus to receptive, non-infected people. As the virus is present in the saliva, contamination often occurs in childhood through close contact especially kissing but also by sharing tableware or towels.
Patent HSV-1 infection is observed in about 10 per cent of individuals and affects mainly children below the age of five.
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