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canker or cold sore, is either infectious? The Body: Rick Sowadsky M.S.P.H., C.D.S, Answers to Safe Sex Questions

Jan 7, 1997

What's the difference between canker or cold sores? Can your partner get infected from your canker or cold sores? If you've got either what precautions can be taken to prevent infecting your partner?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. Canker sores and cold sores are two different things. Canker sores are open, painful ulcers inside the mouth. The cause is currently not known, so we can't way whether these are infectious or not. These ulcers usually last a week or so, then go away by themselves.

Cold sores (also known as "fever blisters") are caused by the herpes virus. This is also known as oral herpes. This infection appears as painful blistery lesions with a clear, yellowish fluid coming from them. The fluid crusts over and the lesion usually goes away by itself in a week or two. Cold sores usually appear on the lips, rather than inside the mouth. Oral herpes is transmitted primarily through kissing, and sometimes by giving oral sex to a person with genital herpes. They are most infectious while the symptoms appear, but technically can be transmitted at all times. So if your partner is showing symptoms of herpes, it's important not to come in direct contact with the lesions, either through kissing or oral sex. Because this is caused by a virus, the infection is not curable, and the symptoms can recur over and over during a persons life. The infection is not life-threatening, but is very unsightly and painful. There are medications that can make the symptoms less severe, but they cannot cure the infection.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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