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Herpes and Cold Sores

Herpes and cold sores (herpes simplex virus) are common and highly contagious viral infections that can cause painful blisters and sores on the skin. There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1, which is often associated with cold sores, and HSV-2, which is often associated with genital herpes.

Signs and Symptoms of Herpes and Cold Sores

Many people who acquire herpes may never exhibit signs or symptoms. However, if an outbreak does occur, a person may experience:

  • Tingling, itching or burning before the blisters appear
  • Sores or fluid-filled blisters

The sores can last from seven to ten days and where they appear varies on what type a person has:

Oral Herpes

Blisters associated with oral herpes often appear on the lips or around the mouth. In some cases, these sores may form on the face or tongue. Oral herpes tends to last for about two to three weeks.

Genital Herpes

Blisters associated with genital herpes typically appear on or inside the vagina or on the penis, buttocks or anus. The first outbreak of genital herpes tends to last for about two to six weeks.

Causes of Herpes and Cold Sores

The herpes simplex virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact or sexual activity. Most people get herpes around their mouth by kissing someone who has the virus or sharing objects such as chapstick, silverware or straws.

Most people get genital herpes from HSV-2. However, if someone has a cold sore and performs oral sex, they could spread HSV-1 to the genitals.

Once someone becomes infected with a herpes virus, the virus stays in the body’s nerve cells forever. However, it often remains in a dormant stage. There are some things that can trigger the virus to become active again, such as:

  • Stress
  • Fever
  • Surgery
  • Menstruation

Treatment for Herpes and Cold Sores

There is no cure for herpes simplex, but antiviral medications work to reduce the severity and duration of outbreaks. At Academic Alliance in Dermatology, our dermatologists will work with you to find the best solution to keep your outbreaks under control and help prevent future ones.

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