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Herpes simplex: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About herpes simplex (cold sores)

Herpes simplex (cold sores) also known as ‘oral herpes’ or ‘fever blisters’ is a recurrent skin infection causing blistering lesions around mouth and lips. It is caused by Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1; though Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 has also been implicated in rare cases. It is an infectious ailment which may spread from person to person.

Herpes simplex (Cold Sores): Incidence, age and sex

Herpes simplex skin infection is commonly seen in children. However, it may afflict an individual of any age. Individuals belonging to lower socio-economic status are more prone for affliction with this viral infection. It has the same preponderance in both males and females.

Signs and symptoms of herpes simplex (cold sores): Diagnosis

The clinical features of herpes simplex (cold sores) include tingling sensation of the skin which is followed by appearance of small and multiple rashes. These skin rashes may progress to form fluid-filled blisters which may be painful. Some individuals may complain of intense itching and burning sensation of affected skin. These blisters eventually dry and form yellow crusts which usually fall off after a week or 10 days. The skin lesions heal without scarring in most of the individuals. The skin of any part of body may get involved but skin of face (lips and area around mouth) is most frequently afflicted.

Comprehensive clinical evaluation is usually sufficient to establish the diagnosis of herpes simplex (cold sores). Other investigations like serological testing and microscopic examination of skin scrapings may be considered if there is any doubt in diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of herpes simplex (cold sores)

There are two types of herpes simples viruses namely Herpes Simplex Type 1 (HSV 1) and Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV 2) of which HSV 1 is responsible for cold sores and also eye disease. On the other hand, HSV 2 causes genital lesions.

However in rare instances it can also cause cold sores. Herpes simplex (cold sores) is an infectious ailment which may spread by direct contact and salivary secretions. It can also be transmitted through close personal contact as in kissing and also by sharing clothes and linen.

Moreover, it can also spread to other parts of body by excessive scratching. There are increased chances of repeated attacks of similar infection due to presence of virus in nerve roots of body where it remains in dormant or inactive state. Reactivation of this dormant virus can take place by certain factors like fever or weakened immunity and result in a similar clinical episode.

Preventive measures like avoidance of direct contact, sharing drinking utensils, clothes and linen may help in curbing transmission to other individuals. It is advisable to wash hands properly after touching the afflicted skin area.

Herpes simplex (cold sores): Complications

The skin lesions can get secondarily infected with bacteria due to excessive scratching. Not only this, it can also spread to other parts of body, if proper hygiene and hand washing is not maintained. Sometimes the infection may spread to the eyes causing herpes simplex eye disease which may hamper vision.

Herpes Simplex (Cold Sores): Treatment

Herpes simplex (cold sores) is a self-limiting disease which usually resolves within a few days without any lasting effect. Symptomatic relief is usually provided by application with antiviral cream (Acyclovir 5%). Oral anti-viral medications like Acyclovir, Famcyclovir may be prescribed to prevent subsequent episodes. Such anti-viral medications are contraindicated in pregnant women. They are recommended to consult gynaecologists before taking any kind of antiviral drugs.