Cold sores are certainly nothing unusual, eight out of ten people show signs of the virus Herpes Simplex, which is the cause of cold sores. The World Health Organization has estimated that 89% of the world’s population are potentially affected, with between 20% and 40% of those going on to develop the symptoms associated with cold sores.
Herpes Simplex symptoms usually develop between 2 and 20 days following contact with the virus, although sometimes it can take longer. There are cases, particularly in women, where the newly infected person may remain asymptomatic (i.e. the condition is present but there are no symptoms) – however that person could still be a carrier of the virus and could potentially infect others. The Herpes Simplex virus is very contagious, especially soon after contraction and the initial symptoms are just starting to show themselves.
Cold sores first appear on the lips and are painful blisters filled with fluid. Soon after, they break, the fluid seeps out and the cold sore then crusts over before the healing process begins. One of the first signs that a cold sore is going to materialize is an itchy or tingling sensation known as the ‘prodrome’.
Apart from cold sores, there are several other symptoms of the Herpes Simples Virus which include cuts and abrasions that heal without leaving a scar. To that we can add areas of blisters in clusters around the body and some skin irritations. However, since these symptoms only occur once, the good news is that the same suffering won’t have to be endured whenever the cold sores re-appear.
On the other hand outbreaks of flu-like symptoms may also occur, although not usually more than four or five times a year. Unfortunately it is normal for the cold sore virus itself to recur. It can be triggered by periods of stress, illness and too much exposure to sunlight or sun beds so it is important to be aware of this.
In general though cold sores rarely last more than two weeks. However, during this time it is vital that certain ground rules are observed. Since they are very contagious, and often passed on from parent to child by kissing, the best advice is to refrain from kissing when cold sores first appear.
Importantly, take great care not to infect the eyes with the cold sore virus. The eyes must never be rubbed after the cold sore has been touched. There have been extreme cases where rubbing the eyes has led to blindness. Therefore it is also vital to keep the hands spotlessly clean and sanitary. An opportunity to wash the hands shouldn’t be missed. Rubbing alcohol is far more effective than just soap and water. Not only will this avoid the risk of infection to others but it will also stop the cold sore further infecting other parts of the body.
Finally, however much the temptation, it is vital, even with clean hands, to avoid scratching the infected area. One proven method of alleviating any itching, is to take some cloth, put ice inside it, and very gently try placing it on the sore.