When you hear the word “herpes,” what do you think of? For most people, herpes is associated with the HSV-1 and HSV-2 herpes simplex viruses, which are the two most commonly occurring types of herpes.
But did you know that, in total, there are actually eight different types of herpes that can affect humans, ranging from the relatively common HSV-1 to recurrent viruses such as HHV-3 (shingles), HHV-4, and recently observed forms of the virus, such as HHV-6, 7 and 8?
And of these, one type of herpesvirus (HHV-6), can be divided into two separate viruses. There are also more than 130 forms of herpes that can affect animals, although few of the viruses are of concern for humans.
Below, we’ve listed all eight types of the herpes virus that can infect humans, along with a short description of how each type affects the body, infection statistics and the treatment options that are currently available.
Herpes simplex virus 1, or HSV-1, is the most common type of herpes virus. Around 65% of all people aged 14-49 are infected with HSV-1, making it one of the most common viral infections in the world.
HSV-1 can affect the mouth and lips (oral herpes) or genitals (genital herpes). The virus causes outbreaks of herpes sores on the mouth or genitals. Many people with HSV-1 are asymptomatic, meaning they never experience any symptoms even after they’re infected with the virus. It also means that HSV-1 transmission is very common, if you're not careful (And even if you are).
Like other forms of herpesvirus, HSV-1 spreads through contact. The most common methods of spreading the virus are kissing and oral sex. HSV-1 is treatable using antiviral medications such as valacyclovir.
Herpes simplex virus, of HSV-2, is the second most common type of herpes virus. Like HSV-1, it is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact. About 11% of people aged 14 to 49 are infected with HSV-2, although many never experience any symptoms.
HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes. It’s typically spread through sexual intercourse and tends to affect women more than men. In rare cases, HSV-2 can spread from the genitals to the mouth to cause oral herpes.
Like HSV-1, HSV-2 has no known cure but can be treated using antiviral medications such as valacyclovir.
Human herpes virus 3, or HHV-3, is a type of herpesvirus that causes chickenpox and shingles.
HHV-3 is also known as the varicella-zoster virus. It’s an extremely common virus that typically occurs during childhood as chickenpox. The virus typically causes painful, unpleasant lesions that can affect the entire body.
When HHV-3 reoccurs as shingles, it can cause painful, itchy lesions to develop in a band-like pattern across the body. Shingles is an extremely unpleasant infection that can result in lasting, long term pain that persists over several months.
Vaccines for HHV-3 have been available since the 1970s, with the first approved vaccines in the United States available from 1995. They go by the names Varivax, Shingrix and Zostavax.
Human herpes virus 4, or HHV-4, is an infectious virus that’s often called the Epstein-Barr virus.
HHV-4 is most commonly associated with infectious mononucleosis, or mono—a common virus that primarily affects teenagers. Mono spreads through saliva and is known by many people as the “kissing virus.”
The symptoms of HHV-4 typically pass on their own over the course of two to three weeks, with antiviral medications such as valacyclovir rarely necessary. However, in some cases, a doctor may recommend medication to treat mono if initial healing is slow or symptoms are severe.
Human herpes virus, or HHV-5, is widely known as the cytomegalovirus (CMV). Like the other forms of herpesvirus, CMV is a common virus that can affect people of all sexes and ages. As with other viruses of this type, CMV is a lifelong infection without a known cure.
CMV is extremely common worldwide, affecting an estimated 50% of all people in developed countries and a greater percentage of the population in developing countries.
In infants, CMV typically spreads through the the uterus or birth canal during birth. The virus can also spread to infants via breast milk. Other common transmission methods include sharing toys and/or items that come into contact with the mouth, such as dining utensils.
After catching CMV, many people experience flu-like symptoms, although many people with the virus are asymptomatic. The virus is typically asymptomatic, but can cause significant problems for people with compromised immune systems.
Treatment for CMV can vary based on symptoms and a person’s immune system, ranging from bed rest to antiviral medications in people with severe symptoms from the virus.
Human herpes virus 6, or HHV-6, is a form of the herpes virus that causes roseola. While some cases of HHV-6 are asymptomatic, many people infected with the virus will experience a high fever, rash and symptoms such as diarrhea.
HHV-6 most commonly affects people during childhood as HHV-6B. HHV-6 is very common in young children, accounting for approximately 20% of all fever emergency room visits by young children. The virus is also common in people that receive organ transplants.
Like other forms of herpesvirus, HHV-6 is very common. Although the virus was only discovered in the 1980s, a reported 64-83% of children in the United States catch the virus at some point in early childhood.
HHV-6 infects the salivary glands, meaning that both the HHV-6A and HHV-6B forms of HHV-6 spread through saliva. As of 2018, there are no medications that treat HHV-6, although antiviral medications used to treat CMV are currently being studied as potential treatments.
Human herpes virus 7, or HHV-7, is another common form of herpesvirus that’s estimated to be found in the majority of humans. The virus was first identified in 1990 and is believed to act with HHV-6 in humans.
Symptoms of HHV-7 include roseola, fever, diarrhea, vomiting and seizures, as well as flu-like symptoms. Many people infected with the virus experience no symptoms.
Like HHV-6, HHV-7 is extremely common. More than 95% of US adults are believed to have the virus, with the majority of people becoming infected before six years of age. Like HHV-6, there is currently no known treatment for HHV-7.
Human herpes virus 8, or HHV-8, is the most recently discovered form of herpes. The virus was recently identified in tumors of Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer that can cause lesions to develop on the skin, lymph nodes and internal organs of people with AIDS.
HHV-8 is also known as Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. The virus is fairly common in people with HIV/AIDS, with as many as 35% of AIDS patients believed to be infected. HHV-8 is also found in patients that have received organ transplants.
As with other forms of herpes, there is no cure for HHV-8. However, the virus is treatable using highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)—a combination of antiretroviral drugs to improve immune system function and prevent opportunistic infections from developing.
Interested in learning more about how herpes is treated? From common infections like HSV-1 and HSV-2 to the varicella-zoster virus, most types of herpes are treated through antiviral medications such as valacyclovir. Think you might have herpes? Don't hesitate to call your doctor about getting an HSV test.
Our Valacyclovir 101 guide covers all there is to know about this common and highly effective antiviral drug, from dosage guidelines and brand names to side effects, mechanism of action, interactions and more.