Herpes or herpes simplex virus Type 1 (HSV-1) is a common viral infection that causes cold sores or fever blisters. A related virus, herpes simplex virus Type 2 (HSV-2) can also cause facial herpes but more frequently causes genital herpes. Most people get HSV-1 from a parent when they are infants or children. Herpes is contagious, even when sores aren’t present, and can be transmitted through a kiss, a shared eating utensil, or a shared towel. HSV-2 is most often transmitted during sexual intercourse.
Once a person is infected with the herpes virus, the virus stays in the body indefinitely. After the first outbreak, the virus travels through nerves to the central nervous system where it stays dormant. Certain factors, including stress, illness, fever, sun exposure, injuries or surgery can trigger the virus to “reactivate” and cause new fever blisters.
Although there is no cure for herpes, most often fever blisters and cold sores resolve on their own. Sometimes, topical antiviral creams can help relieve burning, itching, and tingling, and oral antiviral medications can shorten the course of an active outbreak.