- 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 and Signs
- 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 are the risk factors for herpes simplex infections?
- What makes herpes (cold sores) recur?
- Are cold sores contagious?
- How do cold sores spread?
- What is the incubation period for cold sores?
- What is primary oral herpes?
- What does recurrent herpes look like?
- What are the signs and symptoms of cold sores?
- What other conditions can look like oral herpes (cold sores)?
- What is angular stomatitis?
- What are canker sores?
- What types of doctors treat cold sores?
- What tests do health-care professionals use to diagnose oral herpes?
- How long do cold sores last?
- What is the treatment for cold sores, are there any home remedies, and what medications treat oral herpes?
- What are the possible complications of oral herpes (cold sores)?
- What is the prognosis for oral herpes (cold sores)?
- Is it possible to prevent cold sores?
What causes cold sores?
There are two types of HSV, type 1 and type 2. In general, HSV-1, also known as herpes labialis or oral herpes, causes infections above the waist, most commonly as "cold sores." HSV-2 infections occur mainly below the waist, leading to genital herpes. However, both types of HSV are capable of infecting the skin at any location on the body. Thus, the virus that usually causes oral herpes (HSV-1) can cause genital herpes as well as herpes on the hands and eye. The virus that causes genital herpes (HSV-2) can also cause oral herpes, although it almost exclusively infects the genital area.
Herpes infections, no matter where they occur first, have a tendency to recur in more or less the same place. Such recurrences may happen often (for example, several times per year) or only occasionally. You would know that you have herpes if you have an outbreak or if a doctor performs a blood test to tell if you have been infected with it. Most adults have been infected with oral or genital herpes and never know it.
What are the risk factors for herpes simplex infections?
Exposure to someone with cold sores increases the risk of getting oral herpes. HSV is most contagious when the person has mouth sores or blisters on the lips. The virus can also shed from saliva when there are no visible lesions. This is called "asymptomatic shedding." Therefore, a person can be contagious without having an outbreak. Direct contact with the virus, from kissing or sharing personal items, will increase the chance of getting infected with HSV. Abnormal areas of skin such as eczema may be especially prone to herpes infection.
Health-care workers, such as dentists, dental hygienists, and respiratory therapists, are at risk of developing herpetic whitlow because of contact with people's mouths.