Links between cold sores and herpes

lyndsay.mercier

Question: I’ve heard people say that cold sores are a type of herpes. I was wondering if you can get genital herpes from receiving oral sex from someone with a cold sore?

– Cold Sore Curious

Dear Cold Sore Curious:

Good question. Many people don’t know this, but yes, you can get genital herpes from receiving oral sex from someone who has a cold sore.

As you already know, cold sores are a form of herpes; Herpes Simplex Virus-1 to be exact. Genital herpes are usually associated with herpes simplex virus-2. However, both types can affect either area. There is no cure for herpes, but there is medication available to treat it by relieving symptoms and reducing the number of outbreaks.

Symptoms of herpes usually appear from 2-20 days after infection, but some people don’t show any symptoms for years. Symptoms include a recurring rash with itchy or painful blisters that might show up on the vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, anus, buttocks, mouth or virtually any other part of the body. These blisters break open, scab over and fall off. Around the time of the first outbreak, you might also experience a fever, swollen glands and painful urination.

Sores on the genitals and around the mouth are most contagious from the time they appear until they have completely healed and the scabs have fallen off. Sometimes, HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) can be contagious even when there is no visible sore present.

To be safe, partners with a cold sore should refrain from giving oral sex until about 7 days after a cold score scab has been shed. When it is safe to resume sexual contact, condoms (for oral sex on a male partner) and dental dams (for oral sex on a female partner) should always be used.

People with genital herpes should consider taking prescription medication that can reduce the risk of passing on the infection. Condoms also greatly reduce the risk of transmission of genital herpes. However, some herpes outbreaks occur around the genitals in places that a condom might not cover, such as the inner thighs or scrotum, in which case both partners should refrain from sexual activity until after the sores are completely gone.

Having genital herpes does not make you dirty, or slutty or undesirable. It might help you feel better if you try to think of genital herpes as simply a cold sore in an inconvenient place. If you find out you have genital herpes, you can still lead a fulfilling life and have intimate relationships as long as you manage your herpes with medication and always practice safe sex.

Editors Note: Lynsday Mercier is a senior Psychology major. She is also the president of Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood, a trained sexual education peer educator and a teaching assisstant for Psychology of Sex Behaviors. Lyndsay is not a medical doctor and her advice should never replace the advice of a doctor.