Believe It Or Not, Cold Sores Aren’t Actually A Big Deal

You got a cold sore, and now you’re freaking out. But what does science say about cold sores and herpes? Essentially, they’re the same thing. However, the term “herpes” tends to concern many people. There’s a stigma regarding the virus because most people don’t understand what truly constitutes herpes. According to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), approximately 50 percent of the US adult population has oral herpes. Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) believes that close to two-thirds of the world’s population under 50 have the herpes simplex type 1 virus (HSV-1), a.k.a a cold sore.

The HSV-1 virus also has a counterpart, herpes simplex type 2 virus, which we know as genital herpes. According to the CDC, about one-sixth of people aged 14 to 49 have genital herpes.

If so many people deal with herpes, then why are we so afraid to say its name out loud? For the most part, we lack knowledge about the virus and how it spreads. The truth is, we transmit herpes through physical contact, kissing, oral sex, and bodily fluids.

Entirely too often, we don’t inform ourselves about anything with a stigma, as though there is anything wrong with being knowledgeable about an issue. What happens when we don’t educate ourselves? We remain judgmental and ignorant. So, let’s get out of the dark ages and learn!

HSV-1 = Oral Herpes

Unlike genital herpes, which transmits through skin-to-skin contact, oral herpes transmits via oral-to-oral contact, which leaves cold sores in and around the mouth. Also known as “fever blisters,” oral herpes can be painful and may last up to four weeks without treatment. With proper treatment, you can greatly reduce symptoms in less time. Avoid the area in which you have a cold sore, as it’s contagious. Try not to touch the infected area with your hands because physical contact can transmit the infection to other parts of your body.

HSV-2 = Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is transmitted, you guessed it, via genital-to-genital contact. Though some people don’t display signs of genital herpes, those who do typically have severe symptoms. These symptoms include small blisters around the genital area, flu-like symptoms, itching, tingling, and urinary pain, which is caused by urine coming into contact with the sores. Other symptoms include small, red bumps or tiny, white blisters that appear after the infection starts. Ulcers can also form, which may ooze or bleed if they rupture.

Here’s the deal, though: You can get genital herpes from someone who has oral herpes. Why? Because they’re the same virus!

Typically the two types of herpes stay in their own lanes, but it is possible to transmit the HSV-1 virus to a genital region via oral contact (think having oral sex while you have a cold sore), causing HSV-2. What’s more, it’s also possible to spread the virus even when you’re not experiencing an outbreak. 

To ensure optimal health and avoid transmission, ASHA advocates that people abstain from oral contact, like kissing and oral sex, while they have an HSV-1 outbreak. Most experts recommend that you use barrier protection, like a dental dam or a condom, which can limit exposure to herpes but not eliminate the risk altogether.

You likely won’t know if your partner had genital or oral herpes, unless it was an active outbreak, as the disease is only evident when it’s active. Statistics Show that many of us have a version of the virus or know someone who does. 

The best method is always prevention. Dental dams and condoms can lower your chances of contracting genital herpes, as can openly communicating with your sexual partners if you’re not monogamous. For oral herpes, You can lower your chances of contracting oral herpes when you avoid objects that someone with herpes may have used, like razors or washcloths. Sharing lip balm or makeup products can spread oral herpes as well.

When in doubt, get tested!

Though there’s no cure for herpes, it’s possible to treat HSV-1 and HSV-2. Although you may think otherwise, if you have herpes, your life is most definitely not over! Cold sores are nothing to freak out about. Let’s say hello to the elephant in the room: Cold sores are just a virus and have absolutely no bearing on your worth. There’s nothing “wrong” with you for having one. Lots of folks have cold sores or know someone who does. Now, go live your life and if anyone has a problem with that, send them this article.

Feature Image by Roberto Delgado Webb on Unsplash


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