Can Cold Sores Ever Be Serious?

Cold sores are always serious. They are symptoms of the highly contagious herpes simplex virus 1 and can be contracted very easily. It's important to know the distinction between cold sores and other common types of mouth sores.

What Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores are symptoms of the herpes simplex virus 1, or oral herpes. They are also known as fever blisters and are highly contagious. They appear as fluid-filled blisters or red bumps and are usually found around the mouth, nose, chin or fingers. Cold sores are usually somewhat painful and may be preceded by itching and tingling. They usually last around 7 to 10 days.

Cold Sores are Sexually Transmitted Infections

Cold sores can be transmitted in a number of ways, but most often then are transmitted sexually. It is possible for a woman with herpes to pass it along to her baby through a vaginal birth. It is also possible for a person to pass herpes to another before they have an open sore. For example, if you are even in the beginning stages of an outbreak and you kiss your grandma, you can easily pass herpes along to her. Most commonly however, herpes is transmitted through sexual contact.

There are two types of herpes: herpes simplex type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is oral herpes while type 2 is genital herpes. It is possible for genital herpes to be transmitted to the face, and for oral herpes to be transmitted to the genitalia, usually through oral sex. As with all STD"s, extreme care should be used if you or your partner has herpes, even if there is no outbreak. It's estimated that 65% of all American adults has oral herpes and experts estimate that 90% of those people don't even know they have it; the virus is much more common than we think.

What about Genital Herpes?

Genital herpes is a more severe form of herpes. 1 in five American adults has genital herpes, and many of them don't even know it. Symptoms of genital herpes include small blisters around the genitalia that form sores and eventually crust over and heal. Often these sores resemble razor burn, pimples or jock itch, and the person who has them risks spreading the virus to a partner.

Symptoms can flare up periodically and will last for the rest of your life. There is no cure for herpes. Having genital herpes makes a person at least twice as likely to also contract HIV, because the immune system becomes compromised trying to heal the herpes.

When herpes is active, it causes HIV to become more active, thus making both conditions worsen. People with herpes and HIV will have much more severe and longer lasting outbreaks which will require more aggressive treatment.

Practice Safe Sex

The most important lesson we can all learn from cold sores is the importance of safer sex practices. Awareness is the first step towards limiting the spread of herpes and every other sexually transmitted infection. Know your body and pay attention to new changes.

Many conditions go untreated because people assume their symptoms are minor. If you notice a new development on your body, see your doctor to be examined. Remember doctors treat sexually transmitted infections all the time and will treat yours without judgment. Be sure to use condoms in addition to another form of birth control, and if you notice any unusual changes in the form of itching, a rash, inflammation, pain or redness, abstain from sex until you're treated.

Remember that infections are transmitted through the mouth as well; if you or your partner suspects an infection, don't have oral sex either. Herpes can be managed through safe sex practices and careful management of symptoms.


Photo Credit: crowdasher

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