What is herpes simplex (HSV-1)?

It is a common viral infection–if you’ve had a fever blister, or a cold sore, it is most likely caused by herpes simplex, sometimes called oral herpes, mouth herpes, or herpes simplex labialis.
A closely related virus, HSV-2, causes most cases of genital herpes, but can also cause sores on the face. Dermatology of Seattle can help if you have these conditions.


What causes herpes simplex?

It can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, and does not have to have sores to spread the virus. This is called “asymptomatic viral shedding.” Kissing, sharing a drink, lip balm or towel can spread the virus. Herpes simplex type 2 is transmitted sexually. There are additional risks if you are female, have had many sexual partners, or a weakened immune system. Oral sex can transmit HSV1 from the mouth to the genitals. It can also be transmitted by mothers can give herpes to their baby during childbirth. The virus does not leave the body, and after the first outbreak, the virus moves nerve cells where it stays dormant. It can be re-triggered by stress, illness/fever, or even sun exposure and menstrual periods.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

It’s usually diagnosed by looking at the sores, and your dermatologist may swab a sore to have it analyzed. If there are no visible sores, a blood test can determine the presence of the virus. There is no cure, but the sores can clear without treatment, but treatment can relieve symptoms and shorten the outbreak. Most are treated with antiviral medications. Prescription medicines approved for both types of herpes are Acyclovir, Famciclovir and Valacyclovir. These are taken daily and reduce the occurrence and severity of outbreaks, and can help prevent spreading. The first outbreak is usually the worst, with subsequent ones lessening in intensity as the body makes antibodies which keep the virus at bay. Having cancer or HIV/AIDS, or an organ transplant, are means to seek immediate medical help if you think you have herpes.