Herpes Simplex Infections (Non-Genital) (cont.)

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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);
  • stress;
  • 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.

Pictures of Cold Sores on the Lips (Fever Blisters, HSV-1, or Herpes Simplex Infection Type 1)
Picture of cold sores on the lips (fever blisters, HSV 1, or herpes simplex infection type 1)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2013

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Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Describe Your Experience Question: Please describe your experience with herpes simplex infections (cold sores, non-genital).
Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Treatments Question: What treatment has been effective for your cold sores?
Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Symptoms Question: What were your symptoms associated with a cold sore?
Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Diagnosis Question: Describe the symptoms and events that resulted in a doctor's diagnosis of a herpes simplex infection.

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