Some people call it a cold sore, others a fever blister, but this annoying and often painful chronic condition is caused by the same virus: herpes simplex. About 50 percent to 80 percent of US adults have oral herpes. By age 50, approximately 90 percent of adults have been exposed to the virus. Once infected, a person will have the herpes simplex virus for the rest of his/her life. When inactive, the virus lies dormant in a group of nerve cells. Some people never have any symptoms from the virus, others have periodic outbreaks of infections.
Characterized by blister-like lesions that occur over an eight- to 10-day period most often around the lips, oral mucosa, or tongue, the virus is highly contagious and can spread easily by direct skin-to-skin contact.
The two most common forms of the virus are herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is most often associated with infections of the oral cavity, with up to 90 percent of people in the US exposed to this virus. HSV-2 is most often associated with genital herpes infections, with up to 30 percent of people in the US exposed to this virus. However, both types of HSV can infect both the mouth and the genitals.
Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms of the HSV virus. Specific treatment for HSV infection will be determined by your physician based on: