What is the difference between HSV – 1 and HSV – 2?

The emotional as well as social attitude associated with infections caused by HSV – 1 and HSV – 2 are widely different, and it is these comparisons that make discussions on herpes quite difficult.


Which one is worse? Which is more easily transmitted? Is HSV – 1 (oral herpes or cold sores) and HSV – 2 (genital herpes) the same thing? In this article, we discuss about the similarities between these variants of the herpes simplex virus.

Scientific differences

Under an electron microscope, the HSV – 1 and HSV – 2 strains look nearly identical. These strains of the virus share approximately 50 percent of their DNAs and 85 percent of their genital build – up. While they behave similarly, they diverged a few years ago when humans started having sex face to face. This is exactly why their DNA is different, despite the genetic build – up being strikingly similar.

How are HSV – 1 and HSV – 2 similar?

As stated earlier, HSV – 1 and HSV – 2 are similar in the way they behave. Both strands of the virus affect the mucous membranes usually in the mouth and genitals. However, they may also affect the membranes in the eyes, nose and ears. Once a person has contracted the virus, it establishes latency in the nervous system. It is worth noting that the virus may continue to remain dormant for several years without showing any visible symptoms.

When the virus is activated due to a physical or emotional stimulus, they tend to replicate and travel the nerve pathways to the surface of the skin, where they appear as outbreaks, characterized as lesions and redness of the skin. This is why herpes symptoms are known to recur and transmit even when there are no symptoms visible.

How are HSV – 1 and HSV – 2 different?

The main difference between the two Difference Between HSV-1 &HSV-2strands of the virus is where they establish latency in the body. While HSV – 1 remains latent in nerve cells situated at the base of the neck, HSV – 2 remains dormant in the nerve cells at the base of the spine. It is due to the regions where they establish latency that they affect the nearest parts – mouth and genitals respectively.


Is HSV – 1 more risky than HSV – 2?

It is due to the euphemism attached with HSV – 1, people assume it to be a mild infection. It is this misunderstanding that makes people more vulnerable to transmitting the virus to others. Although it isn’t dangerous when it affects the mouth, it may lead to partial or even complete blindness in case it affects the eye, leading to ocular herpes. On the other hand, HSV – 2 may cause neonatal herpes, which is uncommon but is known to be lethal for newborns.

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