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How many types of herpes virus are there?

What is herpes? Learn about the characteristics and symptoms of the five herpes virus types.

Tests peformed by doctors help determine the strain of herpes. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Tests peformed by doctors help determine the strain of herpes.

There are five human herpes viruses that are all characterized by an eruption of small, usually painful, skin blisters.

Herpes simplex type 1

Herpes simplex type 1 causes recurrent cold sores and infections of the lips, mouth and face. The virus is contagious and is spread by direct contact with the lesions or fluid from the lesions. Cold sores usually are recurrent at the same sites and reoccur where there is an elevated temperature at the affected site; such as a fever or prolonged sun exposure. Occasionally the virus may appear on the fingers with a rash of blisters. If the virus gets into the eye, it could cause conjunctivitis or even a corneal ulcer. On rare occasions it can spread to the brain causing encephalitis.

Herpes simplex type 2

Herpes simplex type 2 causes genital herpes. The virus is contagious and can be transmitted by sexual intercourse. The virus produces small blisters in the genital area that burst to leave small painful ulcers, which heal within 10 days to three weeks. Headache, fever, enlarged lymph nodes, and painful urination are additional symptoms.

Varicella-zoster (herpes zoster)

Baricella-zoster (herpes zoster) causes chicken pox and shingles. Shingles can be caused by the dormant virus reemerging in certain sensory nerves due to immune system decline (because of age, certain diseases and the use of immunosuppressants), excessive stress or use of corticosteroid drugs. The painful rash of small blisters dry and crust over, eventually leaving small pitted scars. The rash tends to occur over the rib area or a strip on one side of the neck or lower body. Sometimes it involves the lower half of the face and can affect the eyes. Pain caused by nerve damage can be severe and longlasting and affects about half of the sufferers.


Epstein-Barr causes infectious mononucleosis, which occurs mainly in adolescents and is characterized by an acute infection with high fever, sore throat and swollen lymph glands, especially in the neck. Mononucleosis is associated with Burkitt's lymphoma, which causes malignant tumors of the jaw or abdomen that occur mainly in African children and in tropical areas.


Cytomegalovirus usually doesn't present symptoms but enlarges the cells it infects. It can cause birth defects when a pregnant mother infects her unborn child.

Herpes gestationis

Herpes gestationis is a rare skin-blister disorder occurring only in pregnancy. It's not related to the herpes simplex virus.

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