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Cold Sores


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There are more than ninety viruses that belong to a family of animal viruses called herpes virdae. Of this family of viruses, four are known to be important to humans. Varicella-zoster causes chickenpox and shingles; Epstein-Barr causes infectious mononucleosis; cytomegalovirus (CMV) often is carried without producing any symptoms, but can have devastating consequences for newborns and for people with compromised immune systems. This section addresses herpes simplex, which causes cold sores (fever blisters) and genital herpes.

There are two types of herpes simplex. Herpes simplex type I (HSV-I) typically causes cold sores and skin eruptions. In later life, it may erupt into a form of shingles. It can also cause herpes keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea of the eye. If herpes repeatedly flares up in the eye, it can lead to scarring and loss of vision.

Between 20 and 40 percent of the population in the United States has cold sores caused by HSV-1. As many as twice that number have been infected with the virus but may never have the sores. That means that 40 to 80 percent of the population is infected with this virus.

Herpes simplex type II (HSV-2) is the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease in the United States. More than 30 million Americans- one out of every six persons over the age of fifteen- have the type II infection, though more than half never develop serious symptoms. This viral infection can range in severity form a silent infection to a serious inflammation of the liver with fever. It is especially dangerous to infants. A baby whose mother is infected can pick u the virus in the birth canal, creating a risk of brain damage, blindness, and death.

Both oral and genital herpes cause painful fluid-filled blisters that are highly infectious until they are completely healed, which can take up to three weeks. In oral herpes, sores usually appear within two to seven days after initial exposure to the virus. Recurrent eruptions are common. Some people are bothered by outbreaks once a year or less; others may get them every few weeks.

A mild tingling and burning in the vaginal area may be the first sign of genital herpes in women. Within a matter of a few hours, blisters develop around the rectum, clitoris, and cervix, and in the vagina. There is often a watery discharge from the urethra and pain when urinating. In men, blisters break out on the penis, groin and scrotum, often with a urethra discharge and painful urination. Sometimes the penis and foreskin swell. A man may also have tender, swollen nodes in the groin.

The first attack of genital herpes usually comes four to eight days after exposure to the virus. It may be so mold that it isn't noticed, or it may cause itching and burning at the site of viral entry as well as painful sores that can last a week or more, plus fever, headache, and other flu like symptoms. After a few days, pus erupts from the blisters and painful ulcers form. These sores crust over and dry while healing. Usually, they leave no scars.

Once they enter the body, herpes viruses never leave. They live in nerve cells, where the immune system cannot find them, and they become active from time to time as the immune system is depressed. The virus may lie dormant for long periods of time, until illness, sun exposure, fatigue, stress, or some other factor causes the virus to break out in open sores again. Fortunately, after a period of time, the virus seems to burn itself out. Outbreaks rarely appear after the age of fifty.

Until recently, it was assumed that genital herpes could be transmitted only during a visible outbreak of the disease, but recent research appears to refute this theory. The only sure way to avoid genital herpes is to avoid sex, or to remain in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Also, although HSV 1 principally causes cold sores and eye infections and HSV 2 principally causes genital herpes, both type I and II can infect either the mouth or the genitals - or both. Oral sex can spread the virus from one place to another.

The information presented is for informational purposes only. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Consult your doctor or health care practitioner for any health problem and before using any supplements.

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