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The herpes simplex virus type 1 (or, less often, type 2) can infect the mouth region, resulting in herpes on the lips (or herpes labialis), producing what is called cold sores or fever blisters. It's a viral infection, highly contagious. There is no known cure, although there are treatments that can shorten the duration of an outbreak. The disease goes into remission with the virus sitting dormant at the ganglia of the sensory nerves, and producing no symptoms until the next outbreak.
Outbreaks may occur about once a year, or less often, or in some sufferers more often. The disease may be transmitted at any time, regardless of whether it is in an active phase or dormant, although the phase when open sores are present is when the chance of contagion is highest.
As an active phase of the disease is beginning, a mild inflammation occurs at the point where the outbreak is to occur, often accompanied by itching, sensitivity to touch, or minor pain.
Generalized symptoms are more likely to occur in the initial appearance of the disease than in subsequent outbreaks, may include headache, sore throat, nausea, and mild fever. However,
In an outbreak, the disease progresses through recognizable and identifiable phases. Between outbreaks, the disease is latent and causes no symptoms or problems, but it is still possible to transmit the illness to others.
As the virus becomes active, reddening, swelling, itching, sensitivity to touch, and pain may occur at the infected site (although this will not happen every time or in every victim). A course of treatment with antiviral medications is best begun at this time.
In the next phase, the skin swells and tiny blisters (called vesicles) form in a small area. The vesicles grow in number and cluster together over the course of several days. After this, the vesicles burst and discharge a watery, clear fluid filled with active viruses.
This is the most contagious phase of the disease, as the liquid from the open sore
is easily transmitted to other people by touch, direct or indirect. About one day
after the vesicles burst, a yellowish crust forms over the sore. This is not a manifestation
of the disease but part of the healing process; however, the crust is still sore
to the touch, and can break or split, releasing more virus-
The victim is still highly contagious. Over the next few days, the crusting is replaced by a series of scabs of decreasing size. New skin forms under them as the 0virus retreats back to dormancy, and the skin heals, regaining its normal color and unbroken texture. The entire process takes approximately two weeks. Contagion is possible during all of these phases, but is much more likely during the phase with an open sore.
Treatment of cold sore on the lips common consists of applying topical antiviral drugs (aciclovir, penciclovir, docosanol) or taking other antiviral drugs orally (famiciclovere, valaciclovere). Other treatments include bandaging the sore (which does not speed recovery but does lower the chance of infection) and keeping the area clean and washing the hands frequently.
Use of antiviral topical treatments can reduce the recovery time from an outbreak by approximately ten percent. There is no known cure for herpes simplex infections, including cold sores. It won't kill you, but you won't kill it, either.
Unfortunately, there is no sure way to prevent becoming infected with herpes simplex or, if already infected, to be sure not to spread the disease to others. The chance can be reduced by cleanliness and avoiding bodily contact with others during an outbreak, but since the disease is always contagious to some degree, even when in remission, that is not a sure preventative.
It's estimated that some eighty percent of adults carry the infection.
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