Herpes simplex is the virus that causes the disease usually associated with herpes. The virus is detected in the form of recurring and sporadic outbreaks of painful blisters. There are two types of virus that infect different parts of the body. It is therefore common to distinguish between the two different viral infections when talking about the disease. The most common type is herpes simplex type 1 (HSV 1) and is usually characterized by mouth ulcer or cold sores.

Herpes simplex 2 (HSV 2) or herpes genitalis, is genital organs and is categorized as a genital disease. Genital herpes, also known as Herpes Simplex type 2 (HSV-2) is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD), not dangerous in itself, but accompanied by very unpleasant and persistent symptoms.

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Herpes infection: what causes cold sores?

A cold sore usually occurs during childhood. The virus infects through the moist inner skin that forms the mouth. It is usually transmitted by skin contact, such as kisses from a family member who already has the infection.

The virus can in some cases cross-contamination, and a person with oral herpes can thus transmit the virus through oral sex, which can lead to herpes on the genitals.

HSV invades the cells of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, which causes fluid-filled blisters. The virus travels from the epidermis along the pathway to the roots of the nerves where it becomes inactive and remains the rest of your life.1

When outbreaks occur, the virus multiplies itself and moves down the nerves, and then causes cold sores around the mouth or other areas around the face. Some people often have cold sores, others only occasionally. It is not clear what causes the “virus” to become active and inactive.

Theoretically, a person who has gotten the virus, is going to be infectious for life, but in practice it is unclear to say when a person with the virus is contagious and not. As a rule, a person is considered to be infectious only while an outbreak, although the virus can also spread between eruptions as well. Generally, you are regarded as contagious from the time you begin to feel itching and tingling in the skin, until your wound has healed completely.

Are herpes and cold sores the same?

The virus occurs in the form of blisters and wounds, on the lips or around the mouth, but also by genital organs. Mouth ulcer, also called cold sores, comes from herpes simplex type 1 or type 2. This virus is very common and as many as 80% of the population are carriers of the virus as many become infected in childhood.

Cold sores vs genital herpes

There is great stigma attached to this disease, and it is explained by the lack of general knowledge about what this condition really is. Herpes outbreaks on the mouth or face are caused by HSV-1 and are usually transmitted to the organs through oral, like kissing. Up to 40% of the cases of the disease in the abdomen are caused by HSV-1. Both HSV-2 and HSV-1 affect the genital organs, genitals, anus, back of thighs or inner thighs. This disease may also occur on other parts of the body, although this is less common. Both types of herpes are spread through physical contact, and both can be transmitted by kissing, oral sex and body fluids. So, finally, herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) is the common cause of cold sores (oral herpes) around the mouth. HSV2 usually causes herpes in the abdomen. However, through sexual activity, HSV1 can cause infections in the genital area, and HSV2 can infect the mouth area.

Herpes outbreak – how long does it last?

The time from one person has been infected until they experience symptoms can be very different and individual. Some may be bothered after a few days, while in some people it takes several weeks or months before they get symptoms. Someone never gets symptoms at all.

First-time outbreaks usually lasts 2-3 weeks before it goes away itself. Some people experience few ailments, while others get very painful symptoms. After the first outbreak, it will usually never be as big or painful if you get recurrent outbreaks of the virus.

Where else can herpes outbreaks occur?

As said, one can get outbreaks in different parts of the body, and not just around or on the mouth.

Here you can get an outbreak of this virus:

  • Around the vagina or on the penis
  • Around the nose
  • In the throat
  • In the eye

How to get rid of cold sores?

If you develop cold sores, there are some general tips that you can follow:

  • Drink plenty of fluid to avoid dehydration
  • Avoid acidic or salty foods and eat cool and soft foods
  • If it is painful to brush your teeth, use antiseptic mouthwash
  • Carefully apply cream to the wound, instead of rubbing
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after applying cold sore cream
  • Avoid touching the mouth, except when applying apply cream

Treatment options

Antiviral creams like aciclovir or penciclovir (also known as Fenistil) may increase the rate of recovery of a recurrent mouth ulcer if used properly.2

Such creams are widely available in the counter from a pharmacy without a prescription.

They are only effective if you use them as soon as the first signs of outbreaks occur when the herpes simplex virus spreads and replicates. The use of an antiviral cream after this initial period is unlikely to have a great effect.

Cold sore patches

Patches are also available as a potential treatment, and are placed over the wound to hide the wound area while healing. They contain a gel called hydrocolloid.

Cold sore cream: Acyclovir (Zovirax)

Acyclovir cream is available under different brand names, e.g. Zovirax, Virasorb Cold Sore Cream, Pinewood Cold Sore Cream. All have the same active ingredient. Acyclovir is a medicine used to treat genital herpes and cold sores. The medicine is known to quickly cure the pain and irritations that patients have had in connection with herpesvirus.

Acyclovir enters and prevents herpes viruses from multiplying and growing. It enters their cellular nucleus and insures they can not produce proteins. Because they can not multiply and grow, it becomes possible for the body’s own immune system to enter and treat the virus outbreak so you can recover.

Acyclovir is not available for prescription in Great Britain, so you must get a prescription from your doctor to purchase this medicine. This can be obtained from your own GP, or from an authorised online clinic. To buy medicines safely through the Internet, always check that the clinic is approved, and send out medicines from a pharmacy. On such websites you will fill out your health information, which a doctor will evaluate via a questionnaire. If it turns out that this is a treatment that suits you, it will be sent directly to you in the mail and delivered to the door.


  1. More about the infection – NHS
  2. Treatment – nhsinform