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What are causes of cold sores?

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Overview of cold sores

Cold sores can be painful, itching and irritating—not to mention unsightly.  Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are small groups of blisters around the lips or mouth, but can occur around the genitals too. These lesions may break open, leak a clear fluid and scab over after a few days. Two virus strains are the causes of cold sores.

Possible causes of cold sores

Strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) are the causes of cold sores:

  • Herpes simplex virus 1: HSV-1 most commonly causes oral herpes. This virus is very common, affecting between 50 to 80 percent of the population.
  • Herpes simplex virus 2: This strain, HSV-2, causes cold sores or lesions around the genitals.

While HSV-1 generally causes cold sores, it can occur genitally when passed through oral sex. Likewise, the HSV-2 that often causes genital herpes can be transferred orally, although less common.

Diagnosing causes of cold sores

Since causes of cold sores, HSV-1 and HSV-2, have the same symptoms, STD testing is the only way to accurate diagnose the strain. When experiencing cold sores or genital lesions, it is recommended to test for both genital herpes (HSV-2) and oral herpes (HSV-1).

Treating causes of cold sores

Causes of cold sores can be treated with antiviral medications, such as Valtrex. Antiviral medication for oral herpes can reduce the frequency of cold sores. When oral herpes outbreaks are present, it’s important to avoid oral sex. HSV-1 is very common, so it’s ok to kiss and have sex otherwise.

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