- Cold Sores Slideshow
- Adult Skin Problems Slideshow
- Take the Skin Conditions Quiz
- Patient Comments: Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Describe Your Experience
- Patient Comments: Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Treatments
- Patient Comments: Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Symptoms
- Patient Comments: Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Diagnosis
- Herpes simplex infections (nongenital cold sores) facts
- What are herpes simplex infections?
- What causes cold sores?
- What makes herpes (cold sores) recur?
- How do cold sores spread?
- What are the signs and symptoms of cold sores?
- What is primary oral herpes?
- What does recurrent herpes look like?
- How long do cold sores last?
- What are the risk factors for herpes simplex infections?
- What are the possible complications of oral herpes (cold sores)?
- What is the prognosis for oral herpes (cold sores)?
- What other conditions can look like oral herpes (cold sores)?
- What is angular stomatitis?
- What are canker sores?
- How is oral herpes diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for cold sores, are there any home remedies, and what medications are used?
- Is it possible to prevent cold sores?
What makes herpes (cold sores) recur?
After infection, the virus enters the nerve cells and travels up the nerve until it comes to a place called a ganglion. There, it resides quietly in a stage that is referred to as "dormant" or "latent." At times, the virus can become active and start replicating again and travel down the nerve to the skin, causing sores and blisters. The exact mechanism behind this is not clear, but it is known that some conditions seem to be associated with recurrences, including
- a fever, a cold, or the flu;
- ultraviolet radiation (exposure to the sun);
- changes in the immune system;
- trauma to the involved area;
- sometimes there is no apparent cause of the recurrence.
How do cold sores spread?
Infections caused by HSV are contagious. The virus is spread from person to person by kissing, by close contact with herpetic lesions, or even from contact with apparently normal skin that is shedding the virus. Infected saliva is a common means of virus transmission. The contagious period is highest when people have active blister-like sores. Once the blisters have dried and crusted over (within a few days), the risk of contagion is significantly lessened. However, a person infected with HSV can pass it on to another person regardless of the presence or absence of symptoms and visible sores or blisters. This is because the virus is sometimes shed in saliva even when sores are not present. HSV can also be spread through personal items that are contaminated with the virus, such as lipstick, utensils, and razors. Despite popular myth, it is almost impossible to catch herpes (cold sores) from surfaces, towels, or washcloths.