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I Have a Cold Sore — Did I Get It From Someone with Herpes?

The short answer from a gynecologist

Close-up of individual pointing to their cold sore

Q: I have a cold sore. Did I get it from someone with herpes?

A. Yes, although it might not be what you think.


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First, make sure that what you see is definitely a cold sore. A cold sore looks and feels like a tiny cluster of painful blisters filled with fluid. Cold sores may look similar to pimples, but the best way to tell the difference is if it itches, burns or tingles when touched. If so, and if located near your mouth/lips, it’s most likely a cold sore.

There are two types of herpes virus strain, but the kind you are most likely facing is the first — a non-sexually transmitted cold sore near your mouth:

  1. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is also known as oral herpes, cold sores or fever blisters. It generally occurs above the waist and can be contracted by close contact or kissing.
  2. Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is also known as genital herpes — and it usually is found below the waist. Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.

Many people don’t realize that you can get either virus (HSV-1 or HSV-2) in either area (above or below the waist) through oral-genital sex, self-inoculation or during sexual contact during an outbreak of this virus.

You can apply a cold compress or petroleum jelly or taking a pain reliever (both ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help) to reduce pain and swelling. Your cold sores should clear up within seven to 10 days.

If you experience cold sores below the waist, make an appointment with your physician.

Gynecologist Linda Bradley, MD.

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