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Herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 is very common with most Canadian adults having it. HSV type 1 is normally on the mouth (cold sores) but we are finding with oral sex that it is common to find HSV type 1 on the genitals.
HSV can pass easily when someone is having an outbreak as there is a large amount of HSV around when you have HSV sores. It is still possible to pass HSV when someone does not have any symptoms. This happens as genital HSV will shed in the genital area from time to time when someone does not have any symptoms.
The interesting thing about HSV type 1 is that since it evolved around the mouth area it does not like being in the genital area. This means HSV type 1 when in the genital area outbreaks and sheds less when compared to it being on the mouth area. This would mean that someone with HSV type 1 would be less likely to pass it to a partner if they had it on the genitals rather than the mouth.
The other thing with HSV is that it is not common to get the same type of HSV on a different part of the body. For example someone has HSV type 1 (cold sores) as a child. It would be unlikely that someone would pass HSV type 1 to their genitals as the HSV type 1 antibodies in the person’s body would make this unlikely. Given this and that HSV type 1 is very common it is hard to know what the chances are of passing it to a future partner as they could already have HSV-1. It is also common for people not to get symptoms when they have HSV, so you just can’t go on the person’s history if they had cold sores, they would need a blood test to know.
In regard to telling a partner I know this can be difficult. Even though it is the same as a cold sore there still seems to be more social stigma when HSV is on the genitals. Not having an outbreak and using a condom will provide a lot of protection against HSV. There could still be a small chance something could pass but liked discussed earlier really depends if the person has the HSV type 1 already.
The Herpes Handbook has a good section on telling new partners.
Also have a look at our HSV page for more information.
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This answer was posted on April 16, 2018