What Do You Know About HSV & HPV?
Most people don’t know it, but HSV & HPV are both endemic human viruses. Very few people don’t end up with them. In fact, they fall right behind the common cold and influenza in regard to human prevalence. Our species has carried them for, well… a lot longer than our species has actually existed. Millions of years; the species we evolved from already had them. They’re nothing new. Most animal species have their own versions.
So why don’t people know they have them, or notice it when they acquire them? Because humans have had them for so very long, most of us have evolved to tolerate them just fine. No symptoms. We’ve adapted to them and they to us, so that for most people, nothing happens when we get them. Co-species evolution. We’re such long-standing roommates now that we rarely disagree.
In the case of the 9 human herpesviruses (including HSV) and the Human papillomaviruses (around 200 at last count) very few people are ever affected by the viruses. (Chickenpox would be the main exception. For the most part, you know when you get chickenpox.) Among carriers of the other herpesviruses, including HSV, fewer than 20% of the population experiences noticeable symptoms.
Papillomaviruses are similar in that only a minority experience anything from them. And yet, like herpesviruses, we’re all contagious and we pass them on. Their ability to not cause us much trouble, overall, is what has been their secret to success. They stay under the radar.
These viruses are so common among humans that doctors and clinics don’t even bother testing people for them. You’re expected to have them. Doctors don’t bother worrying about them (and neither should we, really) until they actually prove to be a physical problem for the patient. Acquiring and carrying various species of both virus families is a perfectly normal part of human life, however inconvenient they may be for some.
Do you have Herpes?
YES. You do. At least, you carry some of the herpesviruses; a few of which might cause the skin conditions that people refer to as “herpes”. And you have not just one type of herpesvirus; you and every other human carry at least a few of the following:
- HHV1 – Human herpesvirus 1 (also called Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1, or HSV-1); may cause “herpes” in some people (cold sores, genital herpes, etc)
- HHV2 – Human herpesvirus 2 (also called Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2, or HSV-2) causes “herpes” in some people (cold sores, genital herpes, etc)
- HHV3 – Human herpesvirus 3 (also called Varicella Zoster Virus, Herpes Zoster Virus) this causes chickenpox in most and later, shingles in some
- HHV4 – Human herpesvirus 4 (Also called Epstein-Barr Virus) This may cause Mononeucleosis in some.
- HHV5 – Human herpesvirus 5 (Also called Cytomegalovirus)
- HHV6a – Human herpesvirus 6a (~100% of us caught that by age 3!)
- HHV6b – Human herpesvirus 6b
- HHV7 – Human herpesvirus 7
- HHV8 – Human herpesvirus 8
Nearly every one of the above infects over 80% of humanity, sooner or later, at some point in their lives… and remains with us for life. There’s really no getting around it. Not if one lives a normal life. (No, moving to some remote mountaintop as a baby and becoming a hermit isn’t a normal life)
Here’s a slideshow about when we acquire our herpesviruses:
Do you have HPV?
Well, you’ve most likely acquired at least one type of HPV in your life; probably a few of them, although for most of us, they’re harmless. The average person first acquires HPV beginning within their first few sexual partners. One may or may not have an active infection at present, but would not know unless symptoms present themselves. 75% of people clear HPV on their own within the first year; 90% by the end of the 2nd year. For ~10%, the infection may become persistent and they would require some additional help. Indications are that we all pick up various HPVs throughout life, sort of like we do with the flu. It just takes longer to get rid of.
There are so many HPV types, they’re still discovering and naming them. Over 200 now. (Yes, we know most sources claim 100. They’re being discovered so often, people have a hard time keeping up.)
What you really need to know is:
- About 40 are known to transmit sexually
- About a dozen have proven to be able to cause cancer (with varying levels of risk)
- Just two – Types 16 & 18 – cause over 70% of all HPV-related cancer cases
- The types which cause warts are not the types which cause cancers
- And again, only the 10% in whom HPV ends up becoming persistent really have anything to be concerned about.
Vaccines are now available for the more cancerous varieties of HPV, although in reality, more people die falling out of bed than cervical cancer. (No, seriously. They do.)
So why are you reading all of this? Because someone who cares about you very much wants you to understand the human reality of HSV & HPV completely. Nobody should be naive about something so very common, yet, most of society is in the dark about these things. We should live our lives with our eyes wide open.
What can you do about it?
Honestly? Not much. The biggest thing one can do is understand that this is the biological reality – a fact of life. Many think they can just wear condoms and that they’ll be safe. In the case of many STDs that may be true, but condoms offer rather limited protection against Herpesviruses and HPVs; these transmit through skin-to-skin contact and we make plenty of that, with or without condoms. Unless you plan to never touch another human being again, you might as well get comfortable with the idea of HSV and HPV.
As you may know, quite a few people get cold sores. These are herpes outbreaks; primarily HSV-1. You may not know, though, that both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can infect any surface of the body. Yes, even your toe can get herpes. Herpes Simplex is somewhat unique, though, in that it infects the nerve endings and remains within the nerve branch that it originally infected.
- If you have cold sores, you only have herpes in the nerve which serves the mouth and face; not your entire body.
- If a herpes simplex virus infects your genitals, you only have it in the nerves which serve your genitals (which also happen to run around the butt and down the legs to the feet) – not your entire body.
- If you have herpes on your finger, you only have it in that nerve, which runs up the arm. So, if it shows up in your genitals later, it would be a separate infection.
That’s not to say your herpes can’t infect another part of your body or a partner’s body; it can. HSV-1, for example, is now the #1 cause of Genital Herpes, mainly due to oral sex. HSV-2 isn’t limited to infecting only genitals, either. It can infect any surface of the body, just like HSV-1 can. And no, it need not necessarily be sexual; far from it. In fact, most HSV infections and transmissions aren’t sexual. That’s one of the reasons HSV isn’t on an “STD” test.
A bit of advice. Don’t touch your herpes, then rub your eye. You might transfer it. And that would suck. Likewise, you should be careful about touching other people with that infected area when you have open sores. Even if you never get sores, though, you can still be contagious., but don’t get paranoid about it; pretty much everyone else is contagious, too. Most herpes transmissions are among people who never had any symptoms. That’s mainly because there are 4x as many people in that group. We can’t all stop living, though. That isn’t an option. The only solution is to understand and accept the realities and exercise reasonable caution, then focus on living and loving.
Around 75% of the US population carries HSV-1, HSV-2 or both. Same for the rest of the world. Odds are, you’re among them. Hopefully you’re one of the >80% for whom it isn’t a problem. However, not everyone is that fortunate.
<20% of people don’t tolerate their herpesviruses quite so well as others, so they show symptoms, whereas the rest of herpesvirus hosts rarely do experience any noticeable symptoms, if ever. This symptomatic percentage occurs across the entire spectrum of herpesviruses, whether that particular virus is causing cold sores, genital herpes, mononucleosis or shingles.
This doesn’t mean that those who do experience symptoms are more necessarily contagious than others, though, when not symptomatic. In fact, research has proven that people who are aware of their positive HSV status are actually about half as likely to pass it on to their partners. Why? Because in reality, most everyone in the population actually does carry an HSV virus, but those people who actually know they carry the virus are more aware of their bodies and more careful with their partners. So, strange as it may seem, you’re only half as likely to acquire a herpes simplex virus from someone who knows they have it than all those other people out there who believe that they don’t, which includes nearly everyone; pretty much anyone else one might date. As we mentioned earlier, this stuff isn’t even on any test panels. Only the <20% who are symptomatic actually know.
So, there’s the good news and the bad news…
The bad news:
- Most of humanity carries most herpesviruses (you probably do, too)
- Most of humanity carries the herpes simplex virus (you probably do, too)
- You may or may not have an active, potentially contagious HPV infection at any given point in time. Then again, so might anyone else.
The good news:
These viruses cause little to no problems for most people; most likely yourself, too. Your partner, however, may not be quite as lucky. If they aren’t, though, it poses no additional danger to you. In fact, their knowing their status poses even less danger to you than dating someone who doesn’t. Still, they care enough about you to make sure that you fully understand Herpes and HPV before choosing to be intimate. They got blindsided by their own naiveté – they didn’t know all about HSV and HPV – and finding out they had acquired it before they learned all about it was a pretty traumatic experience, because they believed all the stories and bought into the stigma. They don’t want the same to happen to anyone else. So whether or not you ever end up with symptoms, you should know about HSV & HPV. Everyone should, because they’re both all around us, in nearly everyone we meet.
That’s about it from ProjectAccept.org. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. We hope it serves you well and that you better understand some very real aspects of human life.
We’d love to hear from you with any more questions you may have about HSV or HPV. At the moment, though, there’s someone quite anxious to hear from you and explain more about their personal experience. Let’s not keep them waiting.
From your friends at ProjectAccept.org
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