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What are Herpes Sores?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Herpes sores are distinctive sores which break out in people who are infected with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Not everyone with herpes will have sores, and people who do develop sores can experience outbreaks at random. Medications such as valacyclover, acyclovir, and famciclovir can be used to manage herpes infections and suppress outbreaks.

Several types of herpes virus can cause sores to appear. HSV1 usually causes herpes sores above the waist, such as the distinctive cold sores or fever blisters experienced around the mouth, while HSV2 is primarily responsible for genital herpes. In both cases, the virus lurks in the body, periodically causing outbreaks when a patient is stressed, or in response to other environmental cues. An outbreak might occur once a month, every few months, or at totally random intervals.

People with herpes often experience tingling or burning sensations in the days before sores appear. The site typically appears red, and then a painful blister emerges. The blister will break and scab over within a few days, and the sore usually vanishes entirely within 10 days. Herpes sores tend to appear over and over in the same spot, which can lead to scarring.

When someone has sores, he or she is actively shedding the virus. People who have contact with herpes sores can contract herpes, and patients can also spread herpes to other areas of their bodies by handling sores and then handling other parts of their bodies. For example, someone who touches a sore around the lip and then brushes an eye will develop herpes sores around the eyes in the future. However, people can also experience asymptomatic shedding, when they can spread the virus even though no sores are present, so herpes sores should not be used to determine whether or not someone is infectious.

Herpes is a chronic infection which cannot be cured. Management of the disease can reduce the number of outbreaks and the amount of the virus shed, keeping the patient more comfortable. Individuals with herpes need to be very careful about contact with others to avoid spreading the disease, but people who have never experienced outbreaks should not assume that they are herpes free, as people can contract and carry the virus without developing sores. Screening at a doctor's office can determine whether or not someone has herpes, and screening for herpes and other sexually transmitted infections on a regular basis is strongly recommended for people who are sexually active.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon150778 — On Feb 08, 2011

I hope someone is a trained professional reading this article because I have some serious questions! A little less than a month ago my gyno called me on the phone informing me that I have herpes and of course I flipped out. I flipped out because I have never had unprotected sex in my life I am in a committed relationship and we use a condom every time.

I asked her if this is like the cold sore kind of herpes, in which everybody has a strain of it, but she was like "no, you contracted this sexually." I haven't had a cold sore since I was 9 and this "thing" only lasted no more than five days with prescribed antibiotics and ointment. I really hope some professional, with good bed side manner, is out there reading this because I am freaking out right now. Help!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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