• Nancy Hancock, MD

Is my cold sore an STD? Someone told me it was caused by Herpes.


Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is a virus that causes both oral and genital herpes.

Oral herpes, such as cold sores or fever blisters on or around the mouth, is usually caused by HSV-1. Most people are infected with HSV-1 during childhood from non-sexual contact. For example, people can get infected from a kiss from a relative or friend with oral herpes. More than half of the population in the U.S. has HSV-1, even if they don’t show any signs or symptoms.

Genital Herpes can be caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2. HSV-1 can be spread from the mouth to the genitals through oral sex. As a result, HSV-1 is becoming a more common cause of genital herpes, especially in young women.

Fluids found in a herpes sore carry the virus, and contact with those fluids can cause infection. You can also get herpes from an infected sex partner who does not have a visible sore or who may not know he or she is infected because the virus can be released through skin and spread the infection.

Many people with HSV have no symptoms. Symptoms, when they do occur, can vary from person to person. After a person is first infected, HSV stays in the body but is not always active. You may not have an outbreak until something triggers it to become active again. This can occur years after the first exposure. In fact, some people never have sores at all.

To prevent STDs, use condoms consistently and correctly. Viruses like HSV, however, can be transmitted from infected areas that are not covered by condoms so condoms may not fully protect you from getting herpes. There are medications that you can take to help prevent transmission to a partner if you are known to carry HSV. Contact your doctor to discuss this more.

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