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Home > Dental Conditions > Cold Sores > Cold Sore Symptoms & Causes > Facts on the Herpes Simplex Virus
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Facts on the Herpes Simplex Virus

There are two types of herpes simplex.

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a very common and contagious infection. Two common types of HSV are herpes simplex type-1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex type-2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 generally affects the face and mouth with painful blisters. HSV-2, or genital herpes, causes similar blisters below the waist. Exposure to HSV, which causes the production of antibodies, reaches an astounding 50-100 percent of many childhood and adult populations.

Even though most of us have been exposed to HSV-1, this does not mean that we will ever have signs or symptoms of the disease. It has been estimated that up to 40 percent of those people exposed to HSV-1 will suffer from recurrent herpes. Recurrent herpes (HSV-1) is to blame for what we commonly refer to as cold sores and fever blisters. The virus usually affects the skin around the lips, but can also affect the tongue, roof of the mouth or gums. With recurrent herpes, the HSV-1 virus hides from the body's immune system in the trigeminal ganglion. The trigeminal ganglion is a bundle of nerve tissue located in the brain whose nerves extend to supply the mouth and parts of the face with feeling and movement. Recurrent herpes can be triggered by exposure to sunlight, fever, infection, the menstrual cycle, emotional stress, trauma or pregnancy.

Many people who have recurrent herpes are familiar with the onset of cold sore symptoms. There is often a tingling or burning sensation a few hours or a day or two before the blisters appear. Then, the blisters or vesicles appear for two to four days, and rupture quickly. Crusts or sores are then formed lasting 8-11 days. Unless the crusts become infected, there is generally no scarring, but the person can still be contagious until the crusts fall off. Always inform your dentist if you have a herpes outbreak.

Aside from the unsightly appearance of HSV-1 cold sores and fever blisters, there is also the risk of spreading the HSV-1 infection to the genitals through oral-to-genital contact. Similarly, genital herpes can be spread to the mouth from the same sexual exposure. Pregnant women infected with HSV-2 place their unborn child at high risk for contracting the virus during childbirth, and often a cesarean delivery is recommended.

There is no cure for HSV-1 or HSV-2 at this time. HSV-1, which causes recurrent herpes can be treated with a topical or oral administration of the antiviral drug acyclovir, or Zovirax®. Acyclovir appears to be most successful if given at the first sign of recurrent infection, and can limit the mouth pain, degree and duration of the outbreak to a modest degree.

Remember, only a dentist can diagnose your dental problems and offer the right treatment plan for you. If you need a dentist, call us at 1-866-970-0441 to be connected with one today.

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