Herpes is often an unpleasant condition for those who contract the virus. Sores may appear around the mouth or around the genital area on the body. Understanding herpes and its causes may help patients reduce their risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others.

Herpes Simplex 1 & 2

Herpes is spread by the herpes simplex 1 virus and the herpes simplex 2 virus. Herpes simplex 1 is usually responsible for cold sores around the mouth, while herpes simplex 2 is usually responsible for genital herpes. However, contrary to what some may believe, either virus may cause both cold sores and genital herpes. Herpes may be spread through intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, kissing, sharing eating utensils or cups, sharing toothbrushes or by sharing other personal items. Ask your sexual partners if they have any sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as herpes and take the proper precautions to avoid contracting the virus. Since you cannot always rely on people to be forthcoming in disclosing their sexually transmitted diseases and because a lot of people with STDs do not know they have them, always practice safe sex.

Cold Sores and Canker Sores

These are often confused with one another and some people think they are synonymous with each other. However, canker sores are not caused by a virus and are not contagious. The exact cause of canker sores is not fully understood, although some attribute them to stress, certain foods or tissue injury. Most people who experience canker sores are between the ages of 10 and 20, although individuals who have previously had canker sores may still get them later in life. Also, canker sores appear inside the mouth, while cold sores usually appear outside of the mouth. Patients who are still unsure if they have a canker sore or a cold sore should see a doctor for further advice.

No Known Cure

While medicines and treatments are available that relieve herpes, there is no known cure for herpes. Outbreaks of herpes may become less frequent over time, although the patient will still carry the virus.

Precautions in Preventing Herpes

It is still possible to spread herpes even if visible sores are not present. This is a common misunderstanding that may lead some people to contract the virus by having unprotected sex with an infected person who does not have visible sores at the moment. Condoms help to reduce the risk of spreading and contracting herpes, although they do not completely eliminate the risk, according to some studies. Research is still being conducted to understand the effectiveness of condoms in preventing herpes. Patients should discuss this subject with a licensed physician.