Because Kids Today Have Fewer Cold Sores, They May Get More Genital Herpes

By Breanna Draxler | October 23, 2013 11:28 am

kissing-teensNew science shows that teenagers today are less likely to have been exposed to cold sores growing up and therefore may be more vulnerable to genital herpes when they become sexually active.

Let’s start by thinking back to the awkwardness of middle school sexual education for a second. As you may recall, from illustrated diagrams on overhead transparencies, there are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 (which usually comes in the form of cold sores on the mouth) and HSV-2 (the genital variety).

These are common viruses. Antibodies for type 1 are found in about half the U.S. population, and for type 2 in about a sixth. And unfortunately, once the herpes virus is in your system, it’s in there forever.

Herpes Happens

In this study, researchers with the Centers Disease Control and Prevention looked at the prevalence of antibodies for the herpes virus in Americans between the ages of 14 and 49. (Keep in mind, this indicates exposure to the virus, but not necessarily that a person develops actual sores.) They compared an earlier time period (1999-2004) with a later one (2005-2010).

Between these two periods, the researchers found that the overall number of people with antibodies for type 1 herpes in their blood declined by 7 percent, while type 2 stayed steady. In teens, however, the type 1 antibody drop was much more dramatic, declining 23 percent.

The researchers think this may be because parents are more informed and careful not to pass the virus to their children through kissing or skin contact when they have sores. This seems like a good thing, but it could raise other risks. As Salon explains,

That means they don’t get cold sores as elementary schoolers, but it also means when they become sexually active, they don’t have immunity to help protect them against the virus in… other regions of their bodies.

Change in Habits

That’s because of a concurrent change in sexual habits that means the herpes viruses aren’t strictly oral or genital these days. Type 1 herpes can spread beyond the mouth, perhaps because oral sex is becoming more popular. With both varieties able to infect the genitals, teens have a greater chance of developing the virus. As described in CBS News,

The authors mentioned that because of the success of public awareness campaigns about HIV, they believe that many people falsely believe that oral sex is safe. But, they forget that there is still a risk of getting the herpes virus.

In the study, published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, scientists call for more research on the herpes viruses to better ascertain the changing risks. Not only can the virus cause recurring sores throughout a person’s life, but a woman can also pass the infection on to her baby during the birthing process, which can be deadly for a newborn whose immune system is undeveloped.

Image credit: photomak/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Anna

    The main idea of the above article is a myth. Whether or not someone has HSV-1 doesn’t affect their susceptibility to HSV-2. Everyone is at the same degree of risk if they have unprotected sex with an individual who is having an HSV-2 outbreak. Having HSV-1 doesn’t give someone immunity. A teenager, or even an adult, may read this article and think that because they have cold sores they can’t get genital herpes. There is so much speculation and false information in this article about something so serious and potentially life-changing that it should not have been published.

    • JP

      I think the point here is that you can get HSV-1 on the genitals without the antibodies. She does not state that you’re immune from HSV-2 if you have HSV-1.

      • Guest

        She implies it. That’s the main idea of the article.

        • Kate Banks

          no, you maybe need to have another read.

          • Guest

            Maybe you need to educate yourself on herpes and get back to me.

      • Breanna Draxler

        Correct! Thanks for weighing in to clarify, JP.

    • Kate Banks

      They may indeed think that if they also misread the article. The point they are making is not that Type 1 herpes gives any immunity to type 2, but that if you have type 1 on the lips, you are less likely to be affected by type 1 on the genitalia.
      Type 1, as I understand it, is generally known to return to the place it was originally contracted? Thus, the article, as it is presented, does pose sensible questions.

      • Guest

        “Type 1, as I understand it, is generally known to return to the place it was originally contracted?”

        Not true. And is the article meant to pose questions? If so, it definitely accomplished that goal. If it’s meant to educate, then fail.

        • Kate Banks

          Herpes returns to the same general area, which is why we have repeat attacks in specific areas, such as the mouth or genitalia.

          ‘is the article meant to pose questions?’ That surely, is the purpose of research, more of which has been suggested in the article.

          ‘If it’s meant to educate…’ the general tone of the article suggests it was written to inform.

          • Guest

            Yes, the purpose of research is to pose questions, but those would best be posed to professionals and not the general public, who for the most part are uneducated when it comes to STDs. Posing questions to people who have little prior knowledge on a subject only leads to the spread of misinformation. Your comment about HSV-1 “returning to the place it was originally contracted” is irrelevant and confusing, just like the article. If you’re infected genitally, the outbreaks will occur there. If you’re infected orally, the outbreaks will occur there. If you have HSV-1, you have the potential to transmit HSV-1 or 2 depending on if you’re having unprotected genital to genital contact or mouth to genital contact. Same goes for HSV-2. The virus resides in the nerves of the spinal column where it’s protected. And your comment about contracting Type 1 on the genitalia shows how little you know about the subject. Type 1 is oral, Type 2 genital. Not really sure why you’re defending so vacuous an article. My comments are more informative than most of the info presented by the author. So you keep debating, and I’ll keep educating. STD education and empowerment FTW!

          • Kate B

            The sentiments contained here are not new. Not really sure why you are getting so upset about this vacuous article to misquote it and spread misinformation. It seems they do not like links posted here, but if you type, ‘dr george kinghorn, an update on herpes simplex’ this will take you to an article which will more clearly explain the difference between type 1 and 2, and that these are different strains. Please don’t take my word for it, I am not interested in being correct, only in trying to correct misunderstandings.
            I totally take your well-made point that some cannot understand information even when presented in laymans terms. But are you suggesting that there should be some kind of censorship on information available to the general public? In which case, they perhaps they should begin with misinformed comments posted by the anonymous.

          • Guest

            Not ‘upset’, more concerned that a popular publication is spreading speculative info about STDs. As I’ve said several times, info about something so serious should be clear and concise, not speculative and confusing. I’ve got no problem identifying myself…my name is Anna. Posing as ‘guest’ or ‘anonymous’ is easier than subscribing to yet another tedious social media site from which I’ll get countless junk emails. I’m a librarian, so I deal with censorship on the daily and am not a fan of it. I have extensive knowledge about herpes (both firsthand and from professional primary sources), and reading articles like the one above, and your insistence on defending the spread of misinformation, is frustrating to someone like me who works to educate and empower people on this subject. It’s also frustrating when someone who knows little to nothing about a subject insists on debating it ad nauseum. Just swallow your pride, listen to the facts, and educate yourself. Might want to check out The STD Project, created and run by a woman named Janelle Marie.

          • Breanna Draxler

            To clarify, Anna, HSV-1 is not restricted to the mouth. Although in the past, we were often taught that HSV-1 is on the mouth and HSV-2 is genital (as referenced early on in the article) those distinctions are no longer so cut and dry. As described in the study, HSV-1 is becoming an increasingly prevalent cause of genital herpes infections in industrialized countries, now accounting for as many as 60 percent of cases. The researchers think that an increase in oral sex in the last decade may be one of the reasons for the prevalence of HSV-1 as a cause for genital herpes.

          • Guest

            HSV-1 isn’t genital herpes. HSV-1 can cause it, as I explained in a previous comment. It is pretty cut and dry imo until proven and backed by a reputable medical reference, which is most definitely not this article nor the sources sited in it. What you are saying about oral sex being a more prevalent cause of genital herpes (or HSV-2) is true, but everything else you have stated is hypothetical. I have several reference books I can recommend if you’re interested in sharing facts on herpes with your readers rather than fiction. It seems you had a deadline to meet so you popped out the pithy piece above, mostly backed with soundbites and info provided by someone who needed to spend some grant money and therefore performed a “study”. I stand by my original comment that the article is uninformative and confusing.

          • Guest

            The reason why they are classified as such is because of the point of origin. Someone passing on HSV-1 from their mouth to someone’s genitals doesn’t make it HSV-1. It’s HSV-2 in the person it’s being passed to, based on the point of origin. Don’t know how much more clearly to state this. –Anna

          • Kate B

            ‘Herpes simplex is divided
            into two types: HSV type 1 and HSV type 2. HSV1 causes primarily mouth, throat,
            face, eye, and central nervous system infections, whereas HSV2 causes primarily anogenital
            infections. However, each may cause infections in all areas’ Chayavichitsilp, P “Herpes simplex’.
            They are two different STRAINS and have different cytopathic effects. HSV 1 on the genitals is not HSV 2

          • anon

            Completely wrong! The virus doesn’t change from one virus to another just because the location has changed. To suggest that viruses are capable of behaving this way is unbelievably stupid.

          • Guest

            Never said it “changed” HSV-1 is oral, HSV-2 is genital. To reiterated, YET AGAIN, either one can cause either one depending on the point of contact.

      • Beth Williams

        This article and the CBS article have some flaws…

        “I tell patients herpes is like your credit history — whatever you did you can never get rid of,” Dr. Marcelo Laufer

        I wish people in the field… especially a Dr. would keep up with new developments. There are breakthroughs in treatment happening every month it seems. Some have even made it to the market.

        My genital herpes… yes, I am one of those unlucky teens, was cleared after using viradux-ColdSore lip balm. Yes, it was a genital location but they told me to apply it to the site, wherever it might be. I know there are a lot of people who think there are false products… but I just got mine confirmed by blood test (ELISA) which showed negative for HSV1 and HSV2. Good article but this field is rapidly changing and I wish professionals (who are being asked to comment in an article about herpes) would keep up.



  • Guest

    The point is that if someone has oral or genital herpes, they can transmit it to someone else and it can manifest as either HSV-1 or HSV-2, depending on the point of contact. It’s pointless, detrimental even, to speculate that having cold sores as a kid could have any affect whether or not one gets genital herpes. Passing on information like this is counter-productive to educating people about STDs. If someone wishes to share info with the general public regarding such, it needs to be clear and concise, not speculative.

    • Michele Gustafson

      I have to agree that the article is seriously misleading as it seems to suggest that a teenager might protect themselves from genital herpes by contracting cold sores, a terrible idea! As a lifelong sufferer of cold sores, I wouldn’t wish such a thing on my worst enemy. I would strongly suggest that Discover issue a follow up article to dissuade our youth from seeking out cold sore infected friends to kiss.

      • Breanna Draxler

        The article is certainly not suggesting that teens should intentionally expose themselves to cold sores in order to develop HSV-1 antibodies. The point is to inform readers of a changing health trend.

        • Guest

          Then you should have stated that clearly: that the “trend” of oral sex leading to genital herpes is on the rise, and explained why. Instead, you implied that having/not having oral herpes makes you less/more susceptible to genital herpes. Again, the main idea of the article is confusing and misleading. –Anna

      • Taz Aaquilah

        The article does not suggest this, but the figures show that they are more at risk from genital herpes. They should be aware of the risk of transmission from oral sex, not just penetrative sex.

    • anon

      You are a dangerous moron. As others have, very patiently, tried to explain to you – THERE ARE 2 DIFFERENT TYPES OF HERPES VIRUS. What you are saying is ludicrous and goes against all scientific knowledge on viral infections. The idea that a virus can change from one virus to another based on where it manifests is so ridiculous and wrong but somehow you are convinced that you know better than the entire medical profession. Your narcissism astounds me.

      • Guest

        And you’re obviously very educated on all things, especially herpes. I can tell by the way you write. YOUR narcissism astounds ME. Since you don’t want to take my word for it: “HSV-1 is the usual cause of oral or facial herpes. Less often, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes (HSV-2). Today, a third or more of all new genital herpes infections are caused by HSV-1. HSV-2 causes the majority of genital herpes infections, and a very small percentage of oral herpes (HSV-1).” — American Medical Association publication on herpes

      • Guest

        And how on earth do you have access to all scientific knowledge on viral infections? Wow, talk about narcissism… –Anna

      • Guest

        “THERE ARE 2 DIFFERENT TYPES OF HERPES VIRUS.” yep, we already covered that: HSV-1, and HSV-2. Anything new you’d like to contribute? Maybe something that’s actually worth reading? — Anna

  • Guest

    I have several reference books I can recommend if you’re interested in educating yourself about herpes. Reference books > websites as reliable sources of information.

  • herpessupportforum

    Yes, we can see more and more kids with HSV2 at those herpes dating sites like HSVDatingClub

  • Taz Aaquilah

    The comments condemning this article seem to be stemming from the idea that Type 1 and Type 2 herpes simplex are defined by the point of contact, ie any herpes on the lips is type 1, herpes on the genitals is type 2.
    This is not the case, as a couple of readers and the author have tried to point out in responses to these comments. They are different strains of the Herpes simplex virus.
    This common misconception is perfectly understandable, as a lot of STD literature refers to the two types in this way, referencing them only as to areas of manifestation. If you are convinced of this misunderstanding, then you will miss the point the article, or the research, is trying to make.

    • Guest

      Then maybe this statement by the AMA is false? “HSV-1 is the usual cause of oral or facial herpes. Less often, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes (HSV-2). Today, a third or more of all new genital herpes infections are caused by HSV-1. HSV-2 causes the majority of genital herpes infections, and a very small percentage of oral herpes (HSV-1).” — American Medical Association publication on herpes

      • Lisa Raffensperger


        This quote is not turning up any search results, and you are misinforming readers. Link to a source that supports your position or you will be blocked from further commenting.

        • Guest

          Don’t have a link because it’s a publication I got when I was diagnosed, but I’m more than happy to send a pic of said publication. –Anna

        • Rosie Piquant

          Here’s a book that backs up what I’m saying, in addition to the AMA publication . “Herpes” by Charles Cozic, Reference Point Press, Inc c. 2011. Not everything factual is on the internet, and not everything on the internet is factual. Just because I don’t have a link doesn’t mean it’s not verifiable. I’m a librarian; I deal primarily with the printed word.

  • kenny wilson

    Cold sores reduces our body immunity and body becomes restless. Valacyclovir is efficient to provide relief from herpes inspection. It have easy dosing facility with minimum side effects.

  • Jess

    You know how not to get either? Either remain abstinent, use protection, have the person tested before being with them, and don’t drink or eat after them either…that doesn’t mean they can’t cheat on you with someone who has it and transfer it but still…it’d be playing the game much safer……

  • gumbala

    I have been suffering from (HERPES) disease for the last four years and had constant pain, especially in my knees. During the first year,I had faith in God that i would be healed someday.This disease started circulate all over my body and i have been taking treatment from my doctor, few weeks ago i came on search on the internet if i could get any information concerning the prevention of this disease, on my search i saw a testimony of someone who has been healed from (Hepatitis B and Cancer) by this Man Dr ERO and she also gave the email address of this man and advise we should contact him for any sickness that he would be of help, so i wrote to Dr ERO telling him about my (HERPES Virus) he told me not to worry that i was going to be cured!! hmm i never believed it,, well after all the procedures and remedy given to me by this man few weeks later i started experiencing changes all over me as the Dr assured me that i have cured,after some time i went to my doctor to confirmed if i have be finally healed behold it was TRUE, So friends my advise is if you have such sickness or any other at all you can email Dr ERO on : ( or call him on +2348161850195 sir i am indeed grateful for the help i will forever recommend you to my friends!!!


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