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Oral Herpes FAQs

Oral Herpes FAQs

Q: How common are cold sores, fever blisters?

Oral Herpes FAQsBy adulthood, over 90% of people in the United States are exposed to one or more of the viruses in the family that includes the cold sore virus. Scientists do not know why, but not everyone who is exposed to the virus develops recurring cold sores. About 40% of people exposed to the cold sore virus experience one or more lesions per year.

Some people may get a cold sore 4 or more times per year. Some will get only one or two per year. Still others may have them only once in their lifetime. Many people are infected and don't even know it. They are a significant reason there is a burgeoning epidemic of HSV infection around the world, as these people unknowingly spread the disease to uninfected people.

Q: What is a Cold Sore, Fever Blister?

Many people are not aware that Fever Blisters and Cold Sores both refer to the same thing, an infection on the lips caused by the human herpes simplex virus, usually type 1 (HSV-1).  The medical term is known as oral herpes. A cold sore typically begins as an itch, tingle, or tenderness to the touch (prodrome), and progresses on to become a skin eruption. As the disease progresses, small fluid filled vesicles may form and join together.

These eventually break due to disease progression and form ulcers. The ulcers may weep fluid when they are open. They are very contagious at this time. The ulcers then scab over and heal spontaneously without complications in 7-14 days.

Cold sores / fever blisters usually occur on or very near the lips. Some people may get more than one cold sore at a time. Some people may get them under the nose and in surrounding areas. Oral herpes can also occur inside the mouth occurring on the roof of the mouth and the gum adjacent to the teeth only (non movable tissue only) This need to be distinguished from canker sores which occurs only on the movable tissues of the mouth.


Less frequently other parts of the body (arm, finger, leg, eye) can become infected, as well.  Cold sores can be very embarrassing for some people. Fear of embarrassment can lead some to compromise their work or school responsibilities.


Q: Are cold sores just a trivial disease that will go away anyway?

In most people, cold sores can be very painful and can be an extreme social embarrassment. Even though most people heal in about 10 days after having a painful lesion, cold sores are not a trivial disease.

When the cold sore virus is accidentally transmitted to a baby or somebody with a weakened immune system, the results can be disastrous. Serious infections can lead to death. Infection of the eyes can lead to blindness.


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