Herpes simplex, commonly called cold sores or fever blisters, may occur once, or return periodically. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus. Herpes simplex begins as a group of small red bumps that blister. You may notice itching or discomfort before the rash appears. The blisters begin to dry up after a few days, and form yellow crusts. The crusts gradually fall off and leave red areas that fade slowly. The whole process takes about 10-14 days, and scars do not form.
Like most viruses, herpes simplex is contagious to people who have never had the infection. Close contact, such as kissing, is necessary to transmit the infection.
Genital herpes is usually spread through sexual intercourse and is essentially only in adults. It is also contagious when in the active stage. Recurring herpes is not a re-infection, but activation of a virus present in the latent form in nerve tissue.
The very first infection with the herpes virus usually happens in childhood. It may go unrecognized, but often it causes fever, general illness, and local soreness. Once you have had a herpes simplex infection, the virus becomes permanently established in your nerve tissue. Recurring herpes lesions result from reactivation of the virus. Between attacks, the virus lives quietly in nerve tissue.
Fever and sun exposure are the most common factors that trigger herpes simplex. That is when cold sores or fever blisters break out. Often, no triggering factor can be found. The virus can become activated without any apparent reason.
Herpes simplex infections are treated with antiviral medication. This helps speed up the healing process, in addition to possibly preventing recurrences. We will prescribe a cream to make you more comfortable while you are getting over the infection.
Recurring herpes is usually only an uncomfortable nuisance. One exception is herpes of the eye. Since it may lead to eye damage, you should see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) immediately. Fortunately, eye involvement is rare with herpes simplex. Herpes simplex around the eye is not dangerous, unless it directly involves the eye.
Herpes simplex is unpredictable. It may attack every few weeks or months, then not come back for years. Recurring herpes can be very distressing. Fortunately, attacks of genital herpes gradually become less frequent over time. We have to face the fact that there is no way to absolutely prevent recurring herpes simplex, with one exception. Prevention of recurring herpes simplex is sometimes possible when attacks are triggered by sunlight. If sunlight acts as an activator for your herpes simplex, you should use sunscreen on and around your lips when you go outdoors.
Herpes simplex is moderately contagious to people who have never had the infection, therefore appropriate measures should be taken.
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