Mouth Herpes:
The Essential Things That You Should Know

Mouth herpes is actually very common.

It appears as small, painful blisters inside or around the mouth, that usually clear up with little to no treatment.

More than half of the population have this infection, also known as cold sores, or fever blisters.

However, most are unaware that it is actually caused by a virus that can be easily transmitted to another person by direct contact.

It is in no way life threatening but it can be uncomfortable and unsightly, especially when you have an important event to attend to.

Because this virus can remain dormant inside the body, it can recur and cause outbreaks when the person infected is under stressful conditions.

Read on to better get a glimpse of what you (or your partner) may be experiencing...

What is Mouth Herpes?

Mouth herpes or herpes labialis, is a fairly common infection of the mouth caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus). The infection usually lasts about 2-3 weeks before healing, and is bound to have a recurrence of at least once a year (this could be more depending on several factors). This is because the virus itself is able to remain in a stage of dormancy within the nerves of the face following an infection.

The reactivation of the infection typically causes sores along the same area where the original infection occurred.

What are the Causes of Mouth Herpes?

Mouth Herpes

(Herpes inside the mouth)

In the United States, about 80% of all mouth herpes cases noted were caused by the HSV-1 virus, and about 20% of the cases were caused by the HSV-2, and with increasing frequency.

Several studies have already suggested that the primary mode of transmission of the mouth herpes infection is through having intimate contact with an infected person or even by using a personal item of any infected person like towels or razors.

What are the Symptoms Associated with Mouth Herpes?

Mouth Herpes

(Herpes around the mouth)

Infections caused by the herpes virus as in the case of mouth herpes typically show no symptoms of infection, and when it does, usually lasts only about 1 to 2 weeks. The telltale sign of the infections is typically noted by an inflammation of the oral mucosa, which occurs at least 5 days after the first exposure to the virus.

Other symptoms associated with the infection include:

  1. Pain. It typically occurs along the site of infection, and in some people can be unbearable if not inconvenient. Most of the patients who had this infection reported pain in the area of the site where the bump, sore, or lesion would erupt just a few days later.
  2. Blisters. This is probably the most annoying of all the mouth herpes symptoms because everyone readily sees it. These small blisters located along the mouth area or on the lips (hence the name herpes labialis or oral herpes), appear like small ulcers, which you will notice to appear drier after a few days. When the blisters start to crust, that usually indicates that the infection is near over. However, you should still refrain from picking on it as it may disturb the natural healing process.
  3. Gum sores. Another annoying feature of mouth herpes is the gum sore. Aside from the fact that it will take the fun out of eating, gum sores are simply painful and inconvenient.
  4. Lymph Node enlargement. As seen in any other form of infection, lymph node enlargement is normal even with mouth herpes, because it is also a form of infection. This can be marked by tenderness and pain along the neck area. You can usually relieve this symptom by putting on warm compress on the area.
  5. Increased Salivation (accompanied by bad breath). Although this is a seldom occurrence, chances are, your mouth will attempt to eliminate (or at least neutralize) the infection through increasing the saliva produced in the oral cavity. This is because the mouth contains certain enzymes that may be able to help break down the virus. The increased salivation may sometimes lead to bad breath because it will be able to trap more and more bacteria into the mouth cavity.

What are the Chances of Transmitting the Infection?

Oral herpes can be transmitted even by very casual contact such as a peck on the lips or cheeks.

Oral herpes is contagious even when there are no visible signs of symptoms (asymptomatic shedding).

But did you know that mouth herpes is among the most common infections in the world?

In fact, by the age of 60, at least 60% of the population may have been infected by it.

In order to prevent the spread of the infection, it is best to:

  1. Refrain from sexual activity during periods of active outbreak. Not saying you won’t be able to have sexual activity forever, but for the sake of your partner (and yours too!), abstinence during an outbreak can preserve both your health. Trust me; you don’t want to be that person that they will eventually resent because you gave them an infection.
  2. Avoid touching the blister while it is on active outbreak. It usually irks a person when they have a blister and let’s admit that sometimes, we just tend to pick them out. Don’t. Chances are you’re going to spread the infection more if you do this, and you don’t want an outbreak on your head.
  3. Be sure to always wash your hands. This is probably the easiest thing to do, and should by now be a norm to everyone. Washing hands is always, always, helpful in preventing any form of infection, mouth herpes or not.
  4. Avoid sharing damp towels. You may have that super close relationship with someone and you tend to share everything from bedclothes to… yes, even towels. Avoid sharing personal items especially when the infection is active.
  5. Safe sex. If you feel like it’s impossible for you to simply abstain from sex during the course of your infection, the best way for you to do this is to use condoms, or an oral dam. Abstinence is of course, still far better and poses a lower risk than this option.

You should know that while herpes is a relatively easy virus to transmit, the virus itself is not very adaptive to the environment outside the human body (as of this writing, humans are their only known hosts). However, it has never killed anyone to be a little on the cautious side.

I Think I am Infected... What Should I Do?

If for some reason, you feel that you are infected with mouth herpes, it is best to consult your physician so that he or she can give you a proper diagnosis.

You will have to go through a series of laboratory tests in order to confirm that you have a herpes infection, and in the event that you do, you will probably be given any of the following drugs:

  1. Lidocaine. This drug is actually a topical local anesthetic (although there are also injectable forms) that can be given to you to relieve any burning, itching, or pain that you may feel in the area of the infection.
  2. Acyclovir (Aciclovir). Acyclovir is the drug of choice for treating infections caused by herpes simplex virus (be it type I or type II). It is used in order to decrease the viral shedding (especially in genital herpes). Note that this drug acts mainly on the nucleic acid synthesis of the virus to stop its multiplication, and is therefore can act as a chromosome mutagen. This means that pregnant women cannot take this drug unless the potential benefit of taking it outweighs the danger to the fetus.
  3. Famciclovir. Famciclovir acts much in the same way as Acyclovir does. However, this drug is generally used for herpes virus strains that are resistant to Acyclovir.
  4. Valaciclovir. This drug is perhaps the most famous form of antiherpetics available in the market today. It is in fact, a prodrug (it is an esterified form of acyclovir), which means that it is simply converted into acyclovir in the body, and therefore follows the same mechanism of action against the infection.

So if you're still unsure whether or not it is herpes, best is to get herpes tested as soon as possible to have some peace of mind and get some answers.

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