What Is Herpes Simplex Type 1?

Herpes simplex type 1 is the virus that causes 80% of oral herpes, or cold sores. This virus is extremely common; in fact, most people have been infected by the age of 20. Oral herpes infections are twice as likely to be asymptomatic than symptomatic. This means that in two thirds of people infected, there are no symptoms. However, in about one third of people there may be symptoms, including:

  • Lesions in or around the mouth and lips
  • Mild fever
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches
  • Small blisters, usually filled with a clear or yellowish fluid

Usually oral herpes will go away without treatment. If your symptoms persist more than a week or two, you should see your health practitioner.

What to do if you have an oral herpes outbreak:

  • Don't kiss anyone or share things that touch your mouth, like glasses, straws, lipsticks, or food.
  • Keep the area clean and dry. Wash with an antibacterial soap.
  • Don't pick at the blisters.
  • If you touch the affected area, wash your hands.
  • Applying ice or a warm cloth may alleviate some pain.
  • You might want to try a topical cold-sore medication.
  • If the sores do not go away after a few weeks, your health practitioner may prescribe an oral antiviral medication. Herbal supplements can also help control herpes outbreaks.

Herpes infections proceed in three stages:

Stage 1: Infection

During this stage, the virus enters your skin.

  • Sores and/or fever may develop, but it is twice as likely that you will have no symptoms.
  • If symptoms develop, they usually do so between 2 and 12 days of infection. On average this period is 4 days.

Stage 2: Latency

  • The virus travels from the site of infection to your spine and settles in the "dorsal root ganglion," or spinal nerves.
  • The virus reproduces, but remains inactive. For some people, there is no stage 3. The virus simply remains inactive and dormant.

Stage 3: Recurrence

  • In one third of infected people, the virus can come back and cause sores again.
  • This is usually triggered by environmental factors, such as stress or certain foods. A depressed immune system will also make a secondary outbreak more likely.

Is Herpes Simplex 1 dangerous?

Usually HSV1 is not dangerous. People with healthy immune systems are usually not in danger from oral herpes. However, there are some cases where herpes may be dangerous and you should seek medical attention:

  • If the herpes spreads to your eye, it could cause blindness. Be very careful not to spread the virus to your eyes.
  • If an infant is infected, it could cause serious illness. Seek medical attention immediately!
  • If you have a depressed immune system, for example because of HIV, chemotherapy, or other drugs, you should seek the advice of your health practitioner if you think you have oral herpes.

Sometimes the oral sores will be so painful you cannot eat or drink. If this happens, watch for signs of dehydration and seek medical attention if they appear. Some signs of dehydration:

  • Decreased urination
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Dry mouth




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