Every though the overwhelming majority of all the people in the world have been exposed to the oral herpes virus, herpes simplex virus 1, also known as HSV-1, most people do not have the misfortune of a serious oral herpes outbreak at any point in their lives. But about 10 per cent of men and women who are ever infected with this virus have outbreaks again and again over a period of years.
The first infection with a herpesvirus usually causes the worst symptoms. Children sharing sippy cups or straws, picking up someone else’s toothbrush, or eating food someone else has bitten into get the virus. Five days to a week later, the child suffers the first signs of oral herpes, a sudden onset of fever, blisters of the mouth and lips, and flu-like symptoms.
After these initial symptoms pass, about two weeks later, the virus “hides” in the nerves of the face. It can stay in these nerves for a lifetime, of it can be activated when there is a signal of some kind of threat to its existence. If someone who has herpes is struck in the face, or gets a sunburn of the face of lips, or develops some other kind of infection, then the virus multiplies and spreads down the nerve to the nearest exit point, so it can be passed on to another host.
The virus itself does not cause blisters. The immune system causes blisters to destroy the virus. The virus is safe from the immune system while it is inside nerves.
Women who know the signs of an impending outbreak can take steps to reduce pain, itching, inflammation, and blistering. The three most important things to know about the symptoms of oral herpes outbreaks are:
- An itch or tingle in the mouth or lip at the same site where there has been a blister previously is the best early warning signal of a coming cold sore or fever blister.
- The “oral” herpesvirus, HSV-1, can infect either the mouth or the genital organs, but symptoms are much less severe when the virus is not in the expected location.
- The genital herpesvirus, HSV-2, can also infect the mouth and lips.
Herpes outbreaks tend to occur at the very same spot over and over again. If you know where you have had a blister or blisters before, then you can become aware of tingles, heat, itching, or other first signs of oral herpes that tell you a new outbreak is on its way. Then it is possible to take an appropriate medication or to use home remedies to minimize the pain.
An “oral” herpes infection of the genitals usually does not cause a widespread breakout.
HSV-1 causes much worse blistering of the mouth than it does of the vulva, vagina, and cervix. HSV-2 causes much worse blistering of the vulva, vagina, and cervix than it does of the mouth. If you have herpes in one place, you are highly unlikely to give yourself herpes in the other. There has to be skin to skin contact to transmit the virus (in almost all cases). But you can have either or both viruses in either or both locations.
When HSV-1 infects a woman’s genital organs, there might be just a single blister. The most common location of this blister is at the opening of the urethra, from which a woman urinates. Generalized blistering of the sex organs, anus, buttocks, pelvis, and thighs can happen with HSV-1 infection when a woman has a severely weakened immune system, but this is a relatively rare event. Genital herpes diagnosis at the doctor’s office can confirm whether the problem is HSV-1, which will place far fewer if any restrictions on sex life, or HSV-2, which is harder to manage.
Signs a woman has a “genital” herpesvirus in the mouth, lips, or oral cavity are much less frequent outbreaks, maybe once or twice a year if any at all, and much less painful outbreaks. There is a quick test for that can tell whether a blister in the vagina is HSV-2, but determining whether a woman has this kind of herpes in the oral cavity requires taking a sample of the blister for lab tests that take 3 hours to 3 days.
Women can pass on HSV-2 to their partners’ genital areas when they give unprotected oral sex. Finding out what kind of virus is causing oral inflammation can tell couples whether they need careful precautions or no precautions at all.