If you are a regular sufferer of cold sores you will know immediately when an attack is imminent by the tingling or itching sensation around the nose but most often around the lips. A small reddened area develops into an angry spot and within a matter of hours this grows into fluid filled blisters. But that’s only part of it. Along with the ugly cold sores comes the fever, flu like symptoms of headache, chills, weak aching limbs and raised temperature. The fever does subside after a few days as you begin to come out of the other side of an attack. From then it is a matter of dealing with the blisters which at the watery stage are very highly contagious and extremely easy to spread to other parts of your body or to other people. Mostly within a week to ten days the blisters will have passed into the drying up scabby stage. Then over weeks and months the skin damage heals and repairs and you wouldn’t know anything had been there…until the next cold sore attack.
That’s a general overview of what it is like to suffer a cold sore but many people including those who regularly endure such attacks have little idea what this illness is or how they caught it in the first place.
Herpes simplex is a virus. There are a whole family of herpes types which are related to the chicken pox virus. The main ones are:
Herpes Simplex type I ( HSV- I ) This is the cold sore usually attacking head / face / hands.
Herpes Simplex type II ( HSV- 2 ) This is the sexually transmitted strain known as genital herpes.
Herpes Zoster. This is also commonly known as shingles. Although another strain it only attacks the body usually in a strip and only occurs in people who previously caught chickenpox.
The herpes virus once caught cannot be cured and is so common the majority of the population carry it without realising it and without ever suffering cold sore outbreaks. Once infected, the virus lives in the nerve cells and lays dormant until something triggers it into action when it travels back to the skin surface to erupt.
Being a virus cold sores are passed on through touch. Any physical contact with a contagious person such as kissing, sex or touching can pass the infection on. It is possible for the virus can survive outside the body for several hours. Because of this, there is always the chance an infected person may contaminate a cup, door handle, towel etc and pass the infection on. However the chances of infection this way are quite remote.
If you do catch a cold sore it is highly likely it was caused by physical contact with a sufferer during an attack. It is therefore essential that during an attack the sufferer frequently washes their hands and avoids any kind of close physical contact with others. Using plasters over the sores during the worst of the ‘weepy’ stage can reduce chances of accidental spread of the virus until the healing process takes over. Enduring cold sores is a miserable experience and it is vital everything possible is done to stop its spread to others.