The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes herpes. Herpes can spread through skin-to-skin contact, including kissing.

This article will look at how herpes can spread to others. It will also discuss symptoms, prevention, and the treatment options available.

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Herpes can spread through kissing.

A person can contract herpes as a result of skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus or coming into contact with their saliva. As a result, people can get herpes from kissing.

Although the virus can spread when no symptoms are present, it is more likely to do so while a person has an outbreak.

So, when a person has cold sores or blisters from the virus, it can easily spread to others.

There are two types of herpes virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2.

People are more likely to contract oral herpes from HSV-1. It is possible to contract HSV-1 from kissing or engaging in oral sex with someone who has the virus.

The transmission of HSV-2 almost always occurs through sexual contact, causing infection around the genitals and anus.

These viruses can result in either oral or genital herpes, depending on where the virus entered the body.

Herpes can spread through contact between an area of infected skin, such as a blister, and an area of broken skin. It can also spread via mucous membranes, such as the genitals or the mouth.

Some common means of transmission include:

  • vaginal or anal sex
  • oral sex
  • kissing

Both types of the virus can spread more easily when a person has an outbreak. However, it can also spread when no symptoms are present.

The reason for this is that there are several days throughout the year when the virus becomes activated despite no symptoms being present. The term for this is “shedding,” or asymptomatic reactivation.

It is also possible for someone to contract oral herpes if they perform oral sex on a person who has genital herpes. However, this is rare, as HSV-2 does not usually affect the face.

It is possible to contract herpes from sharing certain objects.

Any objects that have come into contact with the saliva of a person who has herpes can pass the virus to someone who touches these objects.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people will not contract herpes from the following shared objects:

  • toilet seats
  • bedding
  • swimming pools
  • household objects, such as cutlery, soap, and towels

The blisters and cold sores that appear during a herpes outbreak are very contagious. People can help prevent the spread of herpes by avoiding certain types of contact during an outbreak.

For example, when a person has a herpes outbreak — during which they will have noticeable symptoms — they should avoid:

  • kissing, and any other form of oral contact
  • engaging in oral sex
  • sharing objects that have come into contact with saliva, such as lip balm
  • engaging in vaginal or anal sex (if herpes symptoms are around the genitals)

The virus can also spread even when a person has no symptoms.

Using condoms and other barrier methods correctly during sexual activity can help reduce the chance of herpes transmission. However, it does not completely rule out the possibility of transmission, as barrier methods do not protect the whole area around the genitals.

People can also take an anti-herpes medication to help prevent transmission to any sexual partners.

Anyone who has herpes during pregnancy should talk with their doctor about the possibility of passing it to the baby.

People with the herpes virus may not have any symptoms. If symptoms do appear, however, they are usually most severe during the first outbreak.

The following sections will list some symptoms by herpes type.

Oral herpes

The initial symptoms of oral herpes may include:

  • flu-like symptoms
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • a headache

After the first outbreak, a person may have regular outbreaks of the infection. These may cause milder symptoms, such as:

  • flushing, swelling, or itching around the site of infection
  • fluid filled blisters around the mouth, which may be very painful
  • leaking blisters that then form sores
  • sores that become crusty and heal within about 4–6 days

People may also feel itching, tingling, or a burning sensation around the mouth before they notice any visible symptoms.

Genital herpes

If a person has genital herpes, they may have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, which are not always noticeable.

Some symptoms of genital herpes include:

  • blisters or sores around the genitals or anus
  • fever
  • aching
  • swollen lymph nodes

As with oral herpes, initial symptoms of the virus tend to be more severe and can also include flu-like symptoms. With repeat outbreaks, the symptoms are usually milder. People often have less frequent breakouts over time.

People with HSV-2 may also experience some warning signs of an outbreak. For example, they might experience tingling sensations in the body before they notice any genital sores. In some cases, a tingling or shooting pain may occur in the legs, hips, and buttocks.

There is currently no cure for herpes. However, people can seek treatment to reduce or prevent outbreaks of the virus.

Certain medications can also help minimize the likelihood of transmission.

Some treatment options for oral herpes include:

  • taking oral antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir
  • applying topical antiviral medications, such as acyclovir or penciclovir
  • using topical over-the-counter treatments that have an anesthetic or anti-inflammatory effect
  • keeping the site of infection clean and dry to prevent symptoms from worsening

People can also take antiviral medications to treat genital herpes. Medication can help reduce the frequency and severity of herpes outbreaks.

For anyone who has herpes during pregnancy, a doctor may prescribe an anti-herpes medication to reduce the chance of transmitting the virus to the baby. If any symptoms of genital herpes are present at the time of delivery, doctors may recommend a cesarean delivery.

Herpes can spread through skin-to-skin contact or contact with saliva. It is, therefore, possible to get herpes from kissing.

People can also contract oral herpes from oral sex and sharing objects that have come into contact with the saliva of someone with the infection. Genital herpes spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with anyone who has the virus.

People can help prevent transmission by:

  • avoiding oral or sexual contact during a herpes outbreak
  • using condoms or other barrier methods correctly every time they have sex
  • using dental dams for oral sex
  • taking an anti-herpes medication daily (if in a sexual relationship with another person)

Although there is currently no cure for herpes, people can take medication to reduce or prevent outbreaks. Medication can also help lower the chance of passing herpes to others.

If a person thinks that they may have come into contact with herpes, or if they notice any symptoms, they can see their doctor for a physical examination and possible testing.