The herpes virus, an ancient and unwelcome human companion, comes in more than one form. Herpes simplex 1 is almost always the culprit in cold sores or fever blisters that erupt around the mouth; herpes simplex 2 is generally responsible for genital herpes. But, in fact, both forms of the virus can cause eruptions on the genitals and around the mouth.
Herpes outbreaks are usually painful and unsightly, as well as contagious. Anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of us carry herpes simplex 1, probably as a result of childhood infection. Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. Once you have the virus, you have it. It may lie dormant, but it doesn’t go away. And it can be spread, even if you have no signs of the infection.
Medication options for cold sores:
Fortunately, there are safe and effective drugs for herpes. Commonly used for genital herpes, they can also be used to treat cold sores as well as to suppress future outbreaks. The oral prescription drugs are acyclovir (brand name Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir (Famvir), all available in generic form. Acyclovir is also available as a cream, as is another prescription drug, penciclovir (Denavir); the creams do not work as well as the oral medications. The cream docosanol (Abreva) is sold over the counter. These do not cure herpes in the sense that antibiotics cure bacterial infections, but do reduce the severity of outbreaks and have few, if any, serious side effects. And long-term daily oral doses can cut down on recurrences.
Final note: To head off cold sores, a sunscreen, applied to the lips daily, can be useful. Sunlight seems to activate herpes simplex 1 in some people