In very rare cases HSV- 1 can spread spontaneously to the brain, causing herpes encephalitis, a dangerous infection that can lead to death.
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The two types do behave somewhat differently depending on whether they are residing in their site of preference-the mouth and face for HSV-1, and the genital area for HSV-2.
But both types are quite common, and under most circumstances neither is a major health threat.
For most of us, genital herpes is no more dangerous than a cold sore. Just how much of a physical problem HSV poses for a person depends largely on three factors.
The first is how well the person's immune system is able to control the infection.
Differences in immune response may be the main reason that some people are bothered by frequent cold sores or genital herpes outbreaks while others are not.
It's also the reason that both HSV-1 and 2 can pose serious challenges for infants, who have a limited immune response; and for people with compromised immune systems, including people with cancer, AIDS, severe burns, and people taking immunosuppressant medications.
In addition, we looked at the way our society views oral and genital herpes.
What's behind the very different images the two types carry? In an interview, counselors at the National Herpes Hotline suggest ways to help replace judgmental social assumptions with a healthy attitude.
In the case of oral HSV-1, many of the approximately 100 million Americans who are infected acquired the virus when they were children.