Can HSV2 be transmitted through oral sex?

HSV2 and oral sex: Types, transmission, and symptoms
Jayne Leonard    
by Judith Marcin, MD
Herpes simplex virus type 2 is
a form of herpes virus that can be sexually transmitted and causes lesions,
such as sores and blisters, to form on the skin.

Herpes simplex virus type 2
(HSV2) is spread by skin-to-skin contact and can be transmitted even when the
herpes lesions are not visible on the skin. Although HSV2 is rarely contracted
through oral sex, transmission is possible in some cases. People with compromised
immune systems are especially at risk.
This article looks at how the
herpes simplex virus is transmittted and suggests steps that can be taken to
reduce the transmission of HSV.


There are two known forms of
the herpes simplex virus – herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) and HSV2.
Cases of oral herpes, also
known as cold sores or fever blisters, are caused by HSV1 and are estimated to
affect over half of adults in the United States
Genital herpes, on the other
hand, tends to be caused by HSV2. The American Sexual Health Association
estimate that 1 in every 6 people aged 14 to 49 in the U.S. is infected with
The majority of these people
are unaware of the infection because they do not have any symptoms, their
symptoms are mild, or the symptoms are attributed to another condition.
Both HSV1 and HSV2 can occur
in either the oral or genital regions, but having one form of the herpes
simplex virus does not mean you will get the other.
HSV1 and HSV2 are genetically
similar, so the body of an infected person will produce antibodies to fight the
virus and potentially reduce the risk of contracting the other form.
Nonetheless, it is possible to have both types of HSV.


Skin-on-skin contact is
necessary for the transmission of HSV2. It cannot be transmitted through semen,
from touching toilet seats and other objects, or from using hot tubs.
HSV2 passes from one person to
another when infected areas come into contact with mucous membranes or open
areas on the skin of uninfected people. A mucous membrane is a moist lining
found in certain parts of the body, including the vagina, anus, and mouth.
Once infected with HSV2, the
initial symptoms usually appear within 2 weeks after exposure. This is known as
the primary outbreak, and it may be more severe and last longer than future
When the virus is active, it
will travel to the infected skin or mucous membrane and replicate, in a process
known as “shedding.” This can lead to the appearance of sores and
lesions on the infected area, and the virus can now be easily passed on to
another person.
The virus will eventually move
through the nerves from the skin to near the base of the spine, to a location
known as the sacral ganglia. Here, it will lie dormant for a time until it
becomes activated once again.
It should be noted that
symptoms are not always present even when the virus is active, and HSV2 can
still be transmitted during this time.

HSV2 and transmission through
oral sex

HSV2 is typically passed along
from one person to another through vaginal or anal intercourse. It is less
common to transmit HSV2 through oral sex.
However, as the mouth is lined
with mucous membranes, it is still possible to transmit the HSV2 virus through
oral sex. If a person is infected with HSV2 in the genital area and the virus
comes into contact with mucous membranes in another person’s mouth, it may
enter the nervous system and cause oral herpes.
Similarly, a person who is
infected with HSV2 in the oral area can potentially cause genital herpes in
others by giving oral sex.
Some people are more at risk
than others of contracting the HSV2 virus through oral sex, including people
with compromised immune systems from HIV or AIDS, people undergoing
chemotherapy, transplant recipients, or people with autoimmune diseases such as
HSV1 and oral transmission

The HSV1 virus is typically
transmitted through kissing or sharing drinks and utensils. The majority of
people with the HSV1 virus were infected during childhood from non-sexual
contact and by kissing family members and friends.
Less commonly, HSV1 can spread
from the mouth to the genital area through giving oral sex. It can also be
transmitted through receiving oral sex, vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse,
and the use of sex toys.

The symptoms of both HSV1 and
HSV2 are similar. People with the virus may display no symptoms, very mild
symptoms, or mistake their symptoms for something else. The absence of symptoms
does not mean the virus cannot be transmitted to others.
People who do have symptoms
may experience:

  • an itching, tingling, or
    burning sensation around the lips and mouth or in the genital area
  • painful red sores
  • irritated skin
  • small blisters that ooze or

There is no cure for either
HSV1 or HSV2, so it is important to take steps to decrease the risk of
contracting or passing on the virus. Some ways to decrease the transmission of
HSV include:

  • using condoms or dental dams
    during all forms of sexual activity. Condoms and dental dams are available for
    purchase in pharmacies and online.
  • getting regular STI tests and
    ensuring sexual partners also get tested regularly
  • reducing the number of sexual
  • being in a long-term
    monogamous relationship with an uninfected person
  • avoiding sexual activity
    during outbreaks of the herpes virus
  • using anti-herpes medication
    daily if one partner has the herpes virus
  • abstaining from sexual
Remember that the herpes virus
can be active and easily transmitted even when symptoms are not present. Also,
using a condom or dental dam does not guarantee the virus will not be
transmitted, as a barrier cannot cover all infected areas.


The herpes simplex virus is
prevalent. Both HSV1 and HSV2 can be transmitted through anal and vaginal
sexual activity and, in some cases, through oral sex. Even if no symptoms are
present, it is still possible to pass HSV from one sexual partner to another.
As no cure exists for HSV,
steps should be taken to decrease its transmission. However, it is possible to
live with HSV and still enjoy a healthy sex life and sexual relationships.
Anyone who suspects they have
contracted HSV2 should see a doctor, who can advise them on strategies to
manage the virus, to reduce the number and severity of outbreaks, and to
decrease its transmission to others.
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Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.