Oral Herpes vs. Canker Sores
- Cancer sores are not contagious.
- Canker sores are not the same thing as cold sores. Cold sores ("fever blisters") occur on the outer lip, whereas canker sores are found inside the mouth.
Oral Herpes (HSV-1) (Herpes of the Mouth)
Oral Herpes (HSV-1, Herpes Simplex Virus-1) Facts
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Oral herpes is a viral infection mainly of the mouth area and lips caused by a specific type of the herpes simplex virus. Oral herpes is also termed HSV-1, type 1 herpes simplex virus, or herpes labialis. The virus causes painful sores on the upper and lower lips, gums, tongue, roof of the mouth, inside the cheeks or nose, and sometimes on the face, chin, and neck. Infrequently, it may cause genital lesions. It also can cause symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, fever, and muscle aches. People commonly refer to the infection as "cold sores."
Canker sores are sometimes thought to be caused by HSV, but this is not true. Canker sores occur only inside the mouth, on the tongue, and on the soft palate (roof of mouth), not on skin surfaces. Although they reoccur, they are not contagious, usually are self-limiting, and have almost no complications. Canker sores are caused by substances that irritate the lining of the mouth.
What Is Herpes Simplex (HSV)? What Are the Stages of HSV-1 Infection?
There are two types of herpes simplex viruses (HSV), they are termed HSV-1 and HSV-2. These two viruses have distinctly different DNA, and both cause oral and genital lesions. However, HSV-1 causes about 80% of all oral lesions and only about 20% of genital lesions while HSV-2 causes the reverse (about 80% genital and 20% oral). Studies also suggest that in adolescents, up to 40% of genital herpes is caused by HSV-1 because of reported increased oral/genital contact (transmission by oral sex).
Oral herpes (HSV-1) infection (or exposure without noticeable infection) is common. About 65% of the U.S. population has detectable antibodies to HSV-1 by age 40. This article will focus on HSV-1, or oral herpes, not on HSV-2, also commonly known as genital herpes. Genital herpes is considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In addition, HSV-2 virus should not be confused with human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of genital warts, and some cervical and other cancer types.
Oral Herpes (HSV-1, Herpes Simplex Virus-1) Pictures
A herpes Tzanck smear shows enlarged nuclei that occupy most of the cell. Photo: NIH
Oral herpes: Clusters of blisters erupt on the lips, tongue, and inside the mouth. Most people have been infected by at least one herpes subtype before adulthood.
Last Reviewed 8/31/2017
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Oral Herpes - How Did You Manage?
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