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Oral herpes is a chronic condition caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). It is sometimes referred to as cold sores or fever blisters.
Oral herpes is a common infection around the mouth. While some infected people never develop symptoms, others may experience painful and periodic outbreaks.
According to the World Health Organization’s most recent data, 3.7 billion people under 50 had oral herpes in 2016. Most of these cases initially occurred during childhood.
Over 50 to 80 percent of American adults have oral herpes. About 90 percent will be exposed to the virus by age 50.
Oral herpes spreads among people through physical contact with the virus in active sores, saliva, or surfaces in or around the mouth.
That means you can catch oral herpes by kissing or having oral sex with someone with the virus. The virus also spreads through oral-genital contact, although this is rare and usually causes genital herpes.
People with oral herpes cannot be reinfected, as their body already has the virus. However, they are still at risk of catching genital herpes.
When people have symptoms, it is usually in the form of mild to severe blisters or sores around the mouth, including the:
These sores are highly contagious and can last up to a week to 10 days. The blisters usually rupture after the first or second day and eventually form scabs.
If you do not experience any breakouts, the virus remains dormant in a group of nerve cells. However, there is always the risk of physical symptoms manifesting.
Oral herpes can be asymptomatic. However, some people can experience symptoms. These may look like other medical conditions, so it’s always best to consult your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.
Symptoms of oral herpes are usually the worst during the initial infection. You may experience:
Symptoms are typically more mild during recurring infections. However, sores may still vary from mild to severe. A recurring outbreak will usually begin to show signs around the area where the sores will eventually erupt.
Because oral herpes is a chronic condition, some people may experience frequent outbreaks. They are most common during the first year after the first flare-up.
Medical professionals are still determining specific triggers that cause these outbreaks. However, several of these factors could contribute to a recurrence:
These outbreaks can lessen as you develop more antibodies against the virus.
It can be challenging to diagnose oral herpes because the condition can be asymptomatic, or the symptoms it manifests can look like other conditions.
If you are showing symptoms, your medical provider may perform the following procedures:
A PCR test involves examining a person’s blood in the laboratory. If the herpes simplex virus is present in the blood sample, a person is positive for oral herpes.
The best way to prevent oral herpes is to avoid physical contact with a person with an active herpes infection. Those with the virus should abstain from sexual activity when experiencing symptoms.
Oral herpes is most contagious when active sores are present, but it can still be spread from a person without symptoms.
Here are other things you can do as an extra precaution:
A typical treatment plan for oral herpes involves antiviral medications. These cannot cure the infection, but they help manage the severity and frequency of symptoms.
These antiviral medications include:
Your treatment plan may also involve:
Your treatment will also depend on your:
The most common complication of oral herpes is genital herpes or HIV infection. People infected with genital herpes are also at a higher risk of getting HIV.
Other complications of oral herpes include:
If a person catches oral herpes for the first time later in their pregnancy, the risk of the infant developing neonatal herpes increases.
Neonatal herpes is a rare condition, but when acquired, it is a severe illness that can lead to long-term neurologic disability or death.
In rare cases, oral herpes can cause severe diseases, including:
Some people may also develop lesions on the buttocks, groin, fingers, or eyes during infection, although this is rare.
People who experience frequent outbreaks of blisters and sores may begin to experience negative feelings that impact their quality of life.
These emotions include:
Some people may also worry about the condition’s impact on their overall health, including their sex life and relationships.
Oral herpes is a chronic condition caused by the herpes simplex virus. The disease can be asymptomatic, but some people show signs of the infection.
Symptoms of oral herpes include mild to severe sores or blisters around the mouth area. You may also experience flu-like symptoms like headache and fever during the initial infection.
Oral herpes spreads through physical contact with the virus through active sores, saliva, or surfaces around the mouth. Avoid sexual activity and physical contact if you have active sores.
Treatment involves taking antiviral medications and keeping the infection site clean and dry. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe topical ointments.
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