5 facts about cold sores

For people with a busy social calendar, cold sores can be embarrassing. But what’s more serious than your embarrassment is ensuring you don’t infect others.

Cold sores are caused by a strain of the herpes virus

Cold sores are caused by the HSV type-1 herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). The related HSV type-2 virus causes genital herpes. 

Once you have contracted the virus, it remains in your body for the rest of your life. However, in most people, it remains dormant and never—or only rarely—causes cold sores. But in a small number of affected individuals, the virus can flare up on a regular basis.

Cold sores can be brought on by a variety of factors

Factors that can trigger a cold sore outbreak: 

  • Fever
  • UV rays (natural and artificial)
  • Chapped or injured lips 
  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Infection (e.g., cold or flu)
  • Menstruation

While many of these factors can be hard to avoid, daily use of a moisturizing lip balm that contains sunscreen is a simple way to protect your lips. 

Cold sores are contagious even before they appear

The HSV-1 virus tends to send a number of signals when it is activated, including a tingling or burning sensation, or itchiness at the site where the cold sore will emerge. The person is contagious from that moment, and remains contagious until the cold sore is fully healed.

Preventing transmission

Certain measures are key to reducing the risk of transmitting the virus to others: 

  • Avoid touching cold sores and, especially, avoid popping them, as the liquid they contain is highly contagious. 
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially if you have touched your cold sore. 
  • Avoid direct and indirect contact with others, i.e., no kissing on the mouth or cheeks, and no sharing of personal effects (utensils, drinking glasses, toothbrushes, etc.). 
  • Avoid oral-genital sex.

Your pharmacist can help!

If your doctor has prescribed you an antiviral cold sore treatment in the past, but the prescription is not renewable, your pharmacist can prescribe you the same treatment, provided you meet certain criteria. This can be a convenient way to avoid long waits at a walk-in clinic! Otherwise, he or she can recommend an over-the-counter treatment to meet your needs. Ask your pharmacist!

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