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Spreading and Symptoms of Herpes Cold Sores

Author:   Peter Sedesse MD

When can Herpes Cold Sores be Spread?

Herpes cold sores can be transmitted any time the actual sore is still wet. The normal cycle for a fever blister is that the area will begin to tingle, tickle or feel overly sensitive for about 2 days. Following this, a blister will form for a very brief amount of time, usually less than a day. Shortly afterwards, the blister will burst and and a wet sore will develop. It is at this point the cold sore is the most contagious. The herpes cold sore will gradually develop a crust or scab and become dry and scaly. As this is happening, the sore is becoming less contagious, but the herpes virus can still be spread until the scab or crust is completely dry. The normal contagious stage of a Herpes cold sore is about 7 days. Usually it is advisable to consider yourself contagious for a full day after the sore appears to be completely dry.

Causes of Herpes Cold Sores

Herpes cold sores are caused by Herpes Simplex Virus-1 ( HSV-1) which is very similar to the type of herpes that causes genital herpes (HSV2). About 90% of all people have been exposed to HSV-1 with most individuals will develop a cold sore the first exposure, but then develop antibodies that prevent further cold sores. About 30% of those infected will develop recurring fever blisters.

Symptoms of Herpes Cold Sore Infections

For an individual who is infected for the first time, there is usually a 7 to 14 day time period between the time of infection and the first cold sore. The first Herpes cold sore is usually the most severe and can develop on the mouth, lips, nose, cheeks or hands. In most cases, the site of the first exposure is also the same location of the first cold sore. If an individual does not develop antibodies to repress the virus, subsequent cold sore locations can be located in other areas. Almost all incidents of a herpes cold sore will begin with a 1-2 day period where there is no sore, but itching and increased sensitivity.

What Causes a Herpes Cold Sore Outbreak to Occur in a Person with HSV-1?

The most important point regarding the recurrence of herpes cold sores in a person with Herpes is their immune system. For individuals with a compromised immune system like those with AIDS, HSV-1 can be deadly or can cause blindness if spread to the eyes. For others, the state of the immune system is still very important. For instance, one of the biggest triggers for an outbreak of a herpes cold sore is stress because stress decreases the effectiveness of the immune system overall. Other things that can cause a herpes outbreak are fevers and colds. Finally, women are more likely to have a Herpes cold sore while they are having their period. It is suspected that the change in hormones that occurs during menstruation has some effect on the Herpes virus.

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