Cold sores are caused by a virus that is highly infectious and is called the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
There are actually eight different types of human herpes simplex viruses but only two types can cause cold sores. These two types are categorized as-
Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV- 1) - The herpes simplex virus-1 causes cold sores.
Herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2) - The herpes virus -2 generally causes genital herpes and at times herpes labialis too.
The most common route by which the herpes virus is transmitted to others is by way of direct skin-to-skin contact
. The virus enters the body through a cut inside or around the mouth either by kissing
someone with cold sores or brushing up against their lesion accidentally. It istransmitted through oral sex
. It can also spread byway of an intermediary object such as an eating utensil, cup, lipstick or lip balm applicator, toothbrush, or even a face towel
Cold sores can also spread to other areas of the body of an infected person.
The herpes simplex virus can cause herpetic whitlow
, a painful infection of the fingers.
If the herpes virus infects the eye it can cause a chronic corneal ulcer.
The HSV lies in a dormant state in the body and has a tendency to recur. It hides inside the nerve cells closest to the face. As the virus travels along the nerve tissue, the victim feels a tingling sensation. Following this tingly and itchy feeling, the area swells to form one or several painful pimples which become weeping open sores or blisters. The sore heals without leaving a scar.
A person with a cold sore needs to be careful so as not to transmit the infection to others. People with an outbreak should not pick or scratch the blisters and should wash the hands every time after touching it.