Herpes labialis is a common viral infection that affects the lips, mouth or gums. There are 2 types of herpes simplex virus (HSV): HSV-1 and HSV-2. On the one hand, HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact, causing herpes labialis. Even so, it can also lead to genital herpes. On the other hand, HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted infection that causes genital herpes.
An estimated 3.7 billion people under age 50 (67%) have HSV-1 infection globally.
Rarely, HSV-1 infection can lead to more severe complications such as encephalitis (brain infection) or keratitis (eye infection).
Symptoms And Transmission Of Oral Herpes
Herpes labialis infection is mostly asymptomatic. However, symptoms can include painful blisters or open sores (ulcers) in or around the mouth (cold sores). People who suffer from it often experience a tingling, itching or burning sensation around their mouth before the appearance of sores. These symptoms can recur periodically, and the frequency varies from patient to patient. The blisters may break open and form a crust. It eventually falls off, leaving a sore or ulcer that may take several days to heal. In some cases, people may even experience fever, headache and muscle aches.
This virus is highly contagious and direct contact with an infected person’s saliva or blister fluid can easily transmit it. This can hapen when kissing, sharing utensils or razors, or even touching a contaminated surface.
Most HSV-1 infections are acquired during childhood. During delivery, mothers can transmit HSV-1 to their newborn babies, causing neonatal herpes. But this is quite unusual
Herpes labialis is a recurring infection, which means that people who have had it once are likely to get it again. The virus can remain dormant in the nerve cells. Nevertheless, factors like stress, fever, or sun exposure can reactivate it. When this happens, the virus travels from the nerve cells to the skin’s surface, causing a flare-up of symptoms.
Treatment And Prevention
Treatment for herpes labialis includes antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. These medications can help reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms. However, they cannot cure the infection itself. Over-the-counter creams and ointments can also provide some relief from pain and itching, as well as applying a cold, damp cloth.
To prevent the spread of herpes labialis, it’s important to avoid contact with the affected area and to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently and avoiding close contact with others during an outbreak.
If you suspect that you have herpes labialis, it is important to seek medical attention from a healthcare professional to receive proper treatment and prevent the spread of the virus to others.