If you’ve ever had a cold sore (herpes simplex), you know the signs. It starts with the tingling, then the edge of your lip or the corner of your mouth begins to burn. Then the outbreak: An ugly red sore appears. A few days later it breaks open and crusts over. Within 2-4 weeks, it should disappear.

The herpes simplex (cold sores), also known as HSV, is an infection that causes herpes. Herpes can appear in various parts of the body, most commonly on the genitals or mouth.

Causes of Cold Sores

Cold sores are caused by a common vir called herpes simplex. Herpes simplex is spread by close contact. If you kiss someone with a cold sore, or you touch their face and then touch your own face, you can catch the vir You can also get herpes simplex by sharing lip balm, a fork, a mug or a razor with someone who has it. You’re most likely to get the vir from someone who has an active cold sore, but it’s also possible to contract it from someone who doesn’t have a sore or blister showing.

The vir also can spread to the eyes or the genitals. For example, if you rub your eyes after getting saliva from an infected person on your hands, or if you receive oral sex from someone who has cold sores.

When you’re first exposed to the viru, you’re likely to get a cold sore. After a week or two, it’ll go away on its own. Then the viru goes dormant in your body. You may never have another cold sore outbreak again, but many people do.

There are two types of the herpes simplex:

  • HSV-1: primarily causes oral herpes, and is generally responsible for cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth and on the face.
  • HSV-2: primarily causes genital herpes, and is generally responsible for genital herpes outbreaks.

The herpes simplex is a contagious that can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact.


HSV-1 can be contracted from general interactions such as:

  • Eating from the same utensils
  • Sharing lip balm
  • Kissing

The spreads more quickly during an outbreak. An estimated 67 percent of people ages 49 or younger are seropositive for HSV-1, though they may never experience an outbreak. It’s also possible to get genital herpes from HSV-1 if someone who performed kissing had cold sores during that time.


HSV-2 is contracted through forms of contact with a person who has HSV-2. An estimated 20 percent of active adults in the United States have an infection with HSV-2, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). HSV-2 infections are spread through contact with a herpes sore. In contrast, most people get HSV-1 from a person with an infection who is asymptomatic, or does not have sores.

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