Cold sores, also referred to as fever blisters are a type of viral infection that is quite common. They are small blisters filled with fluid that are formed around mouth and on your lips. These blisters may be grouped together to form patches. When the blisters are broken a crust is formed over them. Cold sores generally heal in 2-4 weeks and don’t leave a scar. Cold sores are caused by infection with herpes simplex 1 virus (HSV1) and also referred to as oral herpes. Infection with the other herpes virus, which causes genital herpes (HSV2), can also cause cold sores. They spread from one person to another by close contact including kissing and having oral sex.

Are Cold Sores Herpes?

Genital herpes is caused by infection with herpes simplex 2 virus (HSV2); however, it may also be caused by infection with HSV1, which usually causes oral herpes or cold sores. Genital herpes is transmitted by having anal, vaginal or oral sex with the infected person.

Though cold sores can be caused by infection with both HSV1 and HSV2 and can be transmitted via oral sex but the transmission is not common. However, both HSV1 and HSV2 can be expressed symptomatically genitally and orally.

Can you transfer genital herpes by having oral sex while having cold sores?

An individual having a cold sore who does oral sex on another individual can transfer HSV1 to that individual and give them genital lesions. Similarly, an individual who does oral sex on another individual with lesions due to genital HSV2 can themselves develop oral lesions or cold sores.

Hence, you can consider using protection during oral sex. Dental dams, which are little squares of latex are available that can be used as a barrier while having oral sex.

What Are the Risk Factors of Contracting HSV1?

After discussing are cold sores herpes, let’s discuss what are the risk factors of contracting HSV1? Approximately 90% of the adults globally test positive for HSV1. If you carry the virus, the following risk factors may cause its reactivation:

  • Exposure to sun

  • Stress

  • Fever, infection or cold

  • Menstruation

  • Eczema

  • Severe burns

  • Weakened immunity or HIV/AIDS

  • Dental work

  • Chemotherapy

You are at risk of contracting cold sore if you touch the fluid oozing out of a cold sore. This may happen while kissing or sharing personal items including razors and toothbrushes or sharing drinks and foods. Moreover, you can get infected with the virus even if you come into contact with the saliva of a person who is already infected, even if the person does not have visible blisters.

What Are the Risk Factors of Contracting HSV2?

In case of genital herpes, you are more prone to get the infection if you get involved in risky sexual behavior without using protection, such as condoms. Some other factors that increase the risk for HSV2 are:

  • Being a female

  • Having more than one sex partners

  • Getting involved in sexual activity at a younger age

  • Having a weak immune system

  • Suffering from another STI (sexually transmitted infection)

What Is the Treatment for Cold Sores?

Cold sores usually go away without any type of treatment in 2-4 weeks. However, several kinds of prescription antiviral drugs are available that may speed up the process of healing. Some examples are: Acyclovir (Zovirax, Xerese), Famciclovir (Famvir), Valacyclovir (Valtrex), Penciclovir (Denavir). These medicines are available either in the form of pills or creams. You may require an injection of an antiviral drug if the infection is severe.

What Is the Treatment for Genital Herpes?

If you develop genital herpes for the first time you should visit your physician and they may prescribe antiviral medicines such as acyclovir, valacyclovir or famciclovir. These medicines work by preventing the multiplication of HSV2. However, the virus is not cleared from the body completely by taking the medicine. You may be asked to apply ice pack to the sores to help ease the pain. You should not wear tight clothing as it may cause irritation of the blisters. You can apply petroleum jelly to blisters or ulcers while passing urine to reduce pain. Drinking lots of fluids to keep your urine diluted will also reduce pain while passing urine.

How to Prevent Genital Herpes

  • Practice safe sex. Don’t have multiple sexual partners. Avoid sex if you have symptoms of herpes as you are getting treatment for herpes. Similarly avoid having sex with someone who has symptoms of herpes or has been exposed to the disease.

  • Wash your hands if you are having symptoms of genital herpes after going to restroom or after touching sores or blisters.

  • Take special care during pregnancy as a female who gets genital herpes during pregnancy can transfer the infection to her newborn baby at the time of delivery. Herpes can make your newborn seriously ill. Tell your physician if you had an exposure to the virus, had an outbreak previously or currently having symptoms.


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