Did you know that millions of people have contracted herpes even without sexual contact? In fact, according to the World Health Organization, most cases of infection with the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) in Africa are contracted in childhood.

On top of that, you can acquire herpes from someone who doesn’t even have any cold sores. That’s because herpes sometimes doesn’t cause any symptoms at all but the virus can still be active. To learn more about HSV1 and cold sores, continue reading.

Overview

Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by either herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) or type 2 (HSV2). Oral herpes is usually due to an infection with HSV1, while HSV2 typically causes genital herpes.

However, oral to genital contact can spread the infection. This means that you can still develop oral herpes from HSV2 and genital herpes from HSV1 if you engaged in oral sex with a person who has herpes.

Key Facts About Oral Herpes

  • When you contract either HSV1 or HSV2, the infection is lifelong.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that almost 70% of people under age 50 have HSV1, while 11% of the global population aged 15-49 are infected with HSV2.
  • Most cases of HSV1 and HSV2 infections do not cause any noticeable symptoms.
  • The most recognizable symptom of herpes is the appearance of painful and fluid-filled blisters at the site of the infection.

What are the Symptoms of Oral Herpes?

blisters and cold sore around mouth

You may have acquired herpes and not know it because both your partner and you are not showing any kind of symptoms. In cases wherein herpes does cause symptoms, they can be very mild, which can make you mistake the infection for something else.

However, there are also numerous cases wherein the symptoms are so severe. If this is the case for you, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor so you can get the medical treatment you need.

The appearance of blisters is one of the most common symptoms of HSV1 infection. If the blisters grow on your lips, that’s commonly referred to as cold sores or fever blisters. However, the blisters may also grow inside or even around your mouth, in which case it’s called orolabial or oral-labial herpes.

There are also many instances when HSV1 causes blisters to grow on or inside the nose, on the cheeks or chin, and even on the neck. If the blisters form on your face, it’s called oral-facial herpes.

A small percentage of HSV1 infection causes blisters to form on the genital or anal region, in which case it’s still referred to as genital herpes even if it’s not caused by the type 2 herpes simplex virus.

Before an outbreak of cold sores occurs, an infected person typically experiences a prodrome, which is a burning or tingling feeling on the area where the blisters are about to appear.

The first outbreak is typically accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever, sore throat, muscle aches, and pain. After the initial outbreak, the cold sores may reappear periodically, however, the frequency of recurrence may vary from person to person.

Is HSV1 Contagious?

With approximately 3.7 billion people affected worldwide, HSV1 is considered highly contagious. The transmission of an HSV1 infection typically happens through oral-to-oral contact. However, oral herpes can also be transmitted through contact with infected sores and saliva.

If you have skin contact with an infected sore or even just the skin around the blisters, chances are high that you will also contract the disease. The HSV1 virus may also be present in an infected person’s saliva, which is why kissing that person or sharing his or her eating utensils can cause you to become infected as well.

It’s important to remember that you can also acquire or pass on HSV1 even when the symptoms of oral herpes are not present. However, the risks of transmission are highest during an outbreak of cold sores.

If you’re going through an outbreak, it’s best to avoid any oral contract with other people. Even just kissing the cheek of another person can cause the virus to spread. You should also avoid sharing any object that may have had contact with your saliva such as drinking straws and eating utensils.

How is HSV1 Diagnosed?

Although doctors can easily diagnose oral herpes based on just a physical examination, laboratory tests are usually needed for an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor may order a viral culture, which means that a laboratory technician will need to take a tissue sample of the sores and analyze it.

culture on petri dish

A polymerase chain reaction test may also be done to determine the presence of herpes simplex virus in your blood, spinal fluid, or blister tissue sample. This test will also show which type of the herpes virus has infected you.

If you never experienced any herpes symptoms but would like to know if you have been infected, a blood test can determine whether HSV antibodies are present in your blood or not. If the antibodies are there, it means that you have been infected.

Is Treatment Possible?

Current treatment options for oral herpes are only for the management of the symptoms. Since it’s a lifelong infection, the virus cannot be eliminated from your body and the disease cannot be cured.

Prescription antiviral medications such as valacyclovir and acyclovir can help shorten the duration of the outbreak by making the sores heal sooner. These medications are usually prescribed to reduce the severity of oral herpes symptoms, as well as lessen the frequency of recurrence.

If you’re experiencing pain, your doctor may also give you pain medication or you can buy over-the-counter pain relievers. There are also creams containing an antiviral medication which you can use for topical application. You can also use a topical anesthetic gel to help you with the pain.

The Bottom Line

Herpes simplex virus type 1 causes a lifelong infection that can be easily transmitted and contracted. It’s important to remember that even if you are not going through an outbreak, you can still pass the virus on to other people.

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