What are Cold Sores and How Do they Spread?

Cold Sore, also known as Oral Herpes, refers to the mouth and lip infection caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). The virus affects the lips, tongue, gums, mouth roof, inside of the cheeks, and sometimes even the face and neck by creating painful sores on these surfaces. Apart from the sores, other symptoms include fever and muscle aches.

Cold Sore is not the same with Canker Sore, which is a completely different type of infection. Canker Sores develop only inside the mouth and are caused by irritation of the oral mucosa. These are not contagious and often have no complications.

Types of HSV
HSV, on the other hand, is a lot more serious. It comes in two types: HSV-1 and HSV-2. These are two different viruses with distinct DNA. Both can cause oral and genital sores. HSV-1 causes more oral lesions than genital lesions. The opposite is true for HSV-2. This is the reason why HSV-1 is commonly termed as oral herpes while HSV-2 is often called genital herpes.

HSV-1, the focus of this article regarding the oral herpes, can affect any age but it’s quite common among children from 1 to 2 years old. People acquire this disease through exposure to infected saliva, skin or mucous membranes. Even just touching an infected person is enough for you to catch the virus, but the most common way to transmit is through kissing and sexual contact. Because this virus is highly contagious, many people have had history of this infection even before reaching adulthood.

When a person gets infected with HSV-1, it progresses through three stages:

– Primary Infection
In the first stage, which is the primary infection phase, the virus enters the skin or mucous membrane through breaks or cracks, and reproduces. Fever may develop as a sign of the antibodies trying to fight off the infection. It’s also possible that you don’t feel anything and you don’t even know you have it. It’s called asymptomatic infection.

– Latency Stage
In the second stage also called latency stage, the virus works its way to a mass of nerve tissue in the spine. This nerve tissue is called the dorsal root ganglion. The virus reproduces once more but becomes inactive. There are no symptoms felt or observed during this phase.

– Recurrent Stage
At the final stage, which is the recurrence stage, people would undergo certain stresses, whether physical or emotional, that can trigger the reactivation of the virus. This would cause new sores as well as symptoms. Factors like stress, ultraviolet rays, fatigue, hormonal changes, immune depression, fever, or trauma can trigger this stage.

If you’re suffering from cold sores, treat the fever and muscle pains with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Of course, it’s best that you consult your doctor first before taking in medication to ensure that you’re not endangering yourself with allergies or side effects. Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids as well to prevent dehydration.

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