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Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is the virus that causes cold sores around the mouth. It is present in more than 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Most people catch the virus in childhood and then get recurrent exacerbations. Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is most often associated with genital infections.
“We really need to accelerate the development of vaccines against herpes simplex virus, and if a vaccine designed to prevent HSV-2 infection also prevented HSV-1, it would have far-reaching benefits,” said Sami Gottlieb, a WHO medical officer.
In North American adults, the seroprevalence of HSV-1 is about 80%, while the seroprevalence for HSV-2 is about 20%. The primary infection of HSV-1 is usually in childhood and the oral findings can affect anywhere in the mouth or lips. The onset is sudden and there can be a fever and painful ulcers. The symptoms usually resolve within 14 days, but it is contagious in the meantime.
In recurrent herpes infections in the mouth, patients can often sense that an outbreak is about to occur. Sometimes they feel a buzz, tingle, or electric sensation. The recurrent outbreaks usually occur on the lips.
What are the treatments? Antiviral therapy helps symptoms if it is prescribed early. If patients present several days into the illness, antivirals will not help much with the symptoms but will help stop the spread of the virus.