A result of a viral infection, cold sores are contagious and can be easily spread from person to person. Any close contact with an infected person, such as kissing or oral sex, can result in the spread of the HSV-1 virus. HSV-1 is still a contagious infection, even if blisters have not developed (i.e. aren’t visible on the face).
Although contagious, HSV-1 is not a life-threatening infection. There is, however, no cure and blisters can recur at any stage. The best means of treatment is antiviral medication which can help to clear sores and blisters quicker than their natural healing process and reduce the frequency at which they return.
Once the virus is contracted, it is highly likely that a person will be a carrier for the rest of their lives. The virus is easily transmitted from a variety of general every day interactions such as sharing lip products (lipstick or lip balm), sharing eating utensils and hygiene products (such as razors) or kissing. Infected parents can easily transmit the virus to their young children through every day interactions.
Transmission happens more quickly when an infected individual has an outbreak of blisters or sores. It is possible to carry the virus and never experience an outbreak.
The virus typically enters the body through a break in skin, either just around the mouth or inside. A person merely needs to touch a blister or cold sore or leaked fluid and then themselves – it’s that easy to contract. Contact with an infected person’s saliva is another very easy way to contract the virus.
Cold sore triggers
Once a person becomes infected, the virus typically lays dormant in the body’s nerve cells, but can be triggered by any of the following and result in an outbreak of blisters:
- Immune system changes
- Hormonal changes (particularly during a woman’s menstrual period)
- Injury to the lips such as sunburn
- Or other viral infection, such as the common cold or flu
One person can have as many as two or three outbreaks in a year, while others can carry the virus for years and never experience one (dormant).