What's the Difference Between Herpes and Cold Sores?

Herpes is a virus that can be passed from person to person and which can cause illness. To be accurate, there are two viruses that are relevant here -- herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV2).

Both these viruses can cause blisters around the mouth, in the genital area and around the anus. When the blisters are found around the mouth, they are commonly called cold sores.

Whereas HSV1 is most commonly associated with infection around the mouth, HSV2 is more typically found in the genital or anal area. Nonetheless both viruses can infect each of these areas, possibly resulting in blisters.

Oral herpes causes tingling or painful fluid-filled blisters on the edge of the lip where it meets the skin of the face ("cold sores"). Less frequently, these can develop on the nostrils, gums or roof of the mouth.

Genital herpes involves painful, fluid-filled blisters in the genital or anal areas. These are sometimes accompanied by fever, headache, muscle ache and a general feeling of being unwell.

The virus can be transmitted from person to person by contact with skin where HSV is present (whether or not a blister is visible). The virus can be passed on by kissing and other sexual contact. It can also be passed from one part of the body to another, by touching the blisters or the fluid from them and then touching another part of the body.

Herpes infection is life-long as no treatment can eradicate the virus. Nonetheless, for long periods the immune system may be able to control the virus, preventing flare-ups and lowering the risk of transmission.

More on Herpes at TheBody.com

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In addition, our Q&A experts sometimes address questions about herpes in our "Ask the Experts" forums. Here are some of those questions and our experts' responses:

  • Oral on a person with herpes
    At the time of our sexual encounter, he did not have any overt signs of herpes infection on his cock and I gave him a blowjob. He said that the symptoms started to come about the following day.
  • Cold Sores = Genital Herpes?
    In oral sex, can someone with a cold sore on the lips transmit the herpes virus to another person? Could it result in genital herpes?
  • Cold sore as an early sign of HIV infection?
    As I read through the long list of HIV symptoms, I find that herpes simplex outbreaks is one of them. I've had cold sores in the past, but only during colds or flus. Should I be tested again for HIV?