Valentine’s Day fast approaches, and the Hallmark holiday that is all about spreading the love might also be spreading something else: cold sores! The herpes simplex virus is one of the most common communicable diseases, estimated to be present in 90% of the population. Though it is not often life threatening, cold sores are not an enjoyable experience for people who get them.
Herpes simplex is part of the Alphaherpesvirinae virus subfamily, and is related to herpes zoster, or varicella zoster virus (VZV), which causes chicken pox and shingles. The herpes simplex virus has many strains, and contributes to a wide variety of illnesses, such as genital herpes, genital warts, meningitis, encephalitis, herpetic whitlows, skin sores and cold sores. The herpes simplex virus is divided into several strains: herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1), and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2), so on and so forth. Today we will be looking at HSV-1 infections that cause cold sores, and how to steer clear of them this Valentine’s Day.
Hygiene is the number one preventative measure that individuals can undertake to ensure they do not catch a cold sore. Firstly, never make skin to skin contact with a person infected with the virus that has active sores. Even though it is Valentine’s season, it is best to keep sharing a drink at the movies and a goodnight kiss on hold until the cold sore has subsided.
If you happen to co-habit with somebody with cold sores, a few extra steps might be needed to prevent the spread of infection:
- Never share personal items such as toothbrushes, lip balm, lipstick or mouthguards. Also keep toothbrushes away from each other, so the bristles do not cross-contaminate.
- Don’t share drinks from the same cup, bottle or straw.
- Avoid share food, where double dipping might occur. Instead, portion out food before the meal to avoid cross-contamination with utensils.
- Treat the cold sore and reduce the duration of symptoms, when a cold sore is infectious. Remember: HSV-1 is spread by skin to skin contact, when an infected person has an open lesion on the skin.
Cold sore treatment
There is no cure for the herpes simplex virus: once you have it, you are stuck with it for life! That does not mean that you cannot manage cold sores. Treatments exist for reducing the appearance, severity and incidence of cold sores, and research continues to examine the effectiveness of various treatments.
Antivirals have most commonly been used to treat a cold sore even since the 1970’s and can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Topical antivirals to treat cold sores are easily available at supermarkets and pharmacies. Some antivirals are available on prescription for people with severe cold sore outbreaks.
Antivirals have been a great help to people who get cold sores, but they also might be playing devil’s advocate. Until recently, a cold sore was considered to have a large impact on the wellbeing of cold sore sufferers; this is due to the stigma created in the media in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Due to this, often these sufferers would also have symptoms of a low mood and anxiety.
Lysine supplementation has also been recommended by alternative medicine practitioners and trialled by researchers to assess for efficacy. Lysine is suspected to stop a cold sore from appearing when symptoms are first noticed and reduce their severity by supporting the immune system. Research and anecdotal evidence has shown that lysine has proven effectiveness. Before starting any complementary medicine, it is advised to speak to your local doctor and alternative health professional.
Protective sticky spots that cosmetically cover cold sores are also available.
Are some people immune to cold sores?
Some people may come into contact with an infected person, and not show symptoms of a cold sore. This is why many people believe they are ‘immune’ to cold sores. However; up to 90% of the population have the herpes simplex virus in their system, so not everyone can be “immune”. Though immunity can be developed over time, genetics are thought to play a key factor in determining frequency of outbreaks.
Make an appointment
If you have questions or require information about herpes simplex virus, contact your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a dermatologist.