Herpes is a very common infection caused by two different but closely related viruses. The viruses are herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
Oral herpes is an infection of the mouth and lips caused by herpes simplex virus type 1. About 65 percent of the U.S. population has detectable antibodies to HSV-1 by age 40.
According to Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases (PKIDs), oral herpes is characterized by small and usually painful blisters on the lips, mouth, gums or the skin around the mouth. These are commonly called cold sores or fever blisters.
Highly contagious, oral herpes is transmitted through direct contact between the contagious area and broken skin and mucous membrane tissue, said the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA).
MedlinePlus warned that the virus is also passed by touching something infected with the herpes virus, such as razors, towels, dishes and other shared items. Symptoms may be mild or severe. Some people get mouth ulcers when they first come into contact with HSV-1 virus, while others are asymptomatic.
Fever, tiredness, muscle aches and irritability may occur. Pain, burning, tingling, or itching occurs at the infection site before the sores appear.
Many have reported these symptoms before the appearance of sores or blisters. The blisters rapidly break down and, when seen, appear as tiny, shallow, gray ulcers on a red base. Several days later, they become crusted or scabbed and appear drier and more yellow.
eMedicineHealth said that the sores can occur on the lips, gums, throat, the front of the tongue, the inside of the cheeks, and the roof of the mouth. They can also extend down the chin and neck.
The gums can become mildly swollen, red-colored and may bleed. Neck lymph nodes often swell and become painful.
They usually appear within one to three weeks after coming into contact with the virus, and may last up to three weeks.
Sometimes symptoms go away without treatment. HealthyChildren.org wrote that antiviral medication can stop the virus from multiplying, but doesn’t prevent reactivation after the medication is stopped.
Once a person has had herpes, they become a carrier of the virus. This means the virus remains in the system usually in an inactive state. During times of stress, injury to the mouth, sunburn, allergies and fatigue, the virus can become reactivated, producing recurrent herpes.
Medline Plus cautioned not to have oral sex if you have oral herpes, especially if you have blisters. The virus can spread to the genitals. Oral and genital herpes viruses can sometimes be spread even without mouth sores or blisters.
"Herpes - oral: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia." National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.
"Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1, Type 2 - Genital Herpes - Symptoms & Testing." Sexual & Reproductive Health - Sex Education - Planned Parenthood. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.
"Oral Herpes." HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.
"Oral Herpes." Who We Are. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.
"Oral Herpes (HSV-1) (Herpes of the Mouth)." eMedicinehealth.com. WebMD, Inc., n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.
"PKIDs | Oral Herpes Signs Symptoms Treatment." PKIDs | home. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.
Reviewed July 25, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
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