This article was published on September 7th, 2019
Uh oh. You’ve got a cold sore. With little that can be done to treat it, other than some ointment that provides temporary relief, the best thing to do is wait. This too, shall pass. The good news is time will eventually lead for this painful mouth wound to close up and go away. The bad news: you’ve got herpes and you’re going to have it for life.
Wait… what? You heard that right. For life?! But don’t get your jockstrap in a bunch. There are treatments and ways to deal with canker sores and cold sores. But first, it’s important to understand exactly what herpes is.
The Herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 & HSV-2) is actually super common and treatable – affecting 90% of adults (//uhs.umich.edu/coldcankersores). So, the good thing is, you are not alone. Most adults are already carrying the herpes simplex virus. But what is the virus, how do you treat it, and how do you manage it?
The Herpes simplex virus is also known as HSV and it is this infection that causes the herpes that generally appear in or around your mouth and on your genitals. There are two strands of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both are contagious viruses that are transmitted between people through direct contact. Here are the differences:
HSV-1 is the much more common virus that children often get from an infected parent or adult. General interactions can use HSV-1 like kissing, drinking after someone, sharing the same eating utensils, and using the same lip balms. Obviously, the virus can spread with greater ease and quicker when an infected party experiences and outbreak and then engages in one of the above activities, but a wound or sore does not have to be present in order for the virus to spread. 67% of the adult population under 50 has HSV-1.
HSV-2 is spread through sexual contact and an exchange of bodily fluids. 20% of sexually active American adults are estimated to have HSV-2. The big difference between the two is HSV-2 is spread through direct contact with a herpes sore during sex. Typically, conscientious partners will notify their sex partners if they are experiencing an outbreak to prevent a spread of the virus to their partners. As long as no open blisters or wounds are present, HSV-2 cannot be spread.
How do you protect yourself against the herpes virus? Unfortunately, not very easily. First, get tested to know whether or not you are already seropositive. Then, don’t share virtually anything that comes in contact with your mouth: drinks, smokes, lipbalm…nada. Technically everyone is at risk of contracting one or both of the virus, but you can protect yourself against HSV-2 by avoiding sex, practicing safe sex with a condom, communicating with a partner, and avoiding sex during outbreaks. Washing your hands also helps contain the virus.
What are the symptoms? Fortunately, millions of people living with herpes may never experience a single outbreak of blistering sores in and around the mouth and genitals. In rare cases, Herpes can be spread through the eyes, too, causing eye pain and discharge. Other symptoms include pain during urination, itching, headaches, fever, fatigue, appetite loss, and swollen lymph nodes
While there currently is no cure for HSV, there are treatment options available. Doctors can prescribe medicines like acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir to help treat the virus and suppress an outbreak. These come in cream, pills, and via syringe in bad cases. Otherwise, time will eventually cause these blisters to subside and go away.
While there is still a stigma against STIs and talking about our personal health, you can help erase some of the stigma surrounding herpes and HSV-1 and HSV-2 by talking about it, informing your friends, and not slamming anyone who has it. Considering a vast amount of the population carry at least one type of herpes, who are we to judge? If you need to tell a partner, sit down with them in front of a computer and read up about the viruses. Education is power and you can help fight the stigma by being and staying informed about HSV-1 and HSV-2.
If you have questions or want more information about Herpes, consult your physician.