Cold sores - What are the risks?

What are the risks to me?
Proper hygiene is important at any time but especially during a cold sore outbreak. It is possible to transfer the virus from the cold sore around the mouth to other areas of the body causing an infection and sore in those places.

The virus may be spread to other locations such as:
  • the eye (herpetic keratitis)
  • skin that has eczema causing widespread involvement of the skin (eczema herpeticum).
Other risks include:
  • the development of rare condition called Erythema multiforme (a short-term inflammatory skin reaction can be minor or severe) that can develop with each outbreak of herpes
  • secondary infections with bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus.

What are the risks to others?
It is just as easy to transfer the virus from person to person. This is a much greater risk when the cold sore is actively present on the skin but it is also possible to transfer the virus even when the skin looks normal.
How can I reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others?
  1. Avoid kissing or pecking others when the cold sore is present. The lesion is infectious until it becomes completely dry and the crust has fallen off.
  2. Avoid performing oral sex
  3. Discourage children who have a cold sore from sucking their thumb or fingers
  4. Do not share cutlery, cups, glasses, water bottles, towels, razors
  5. Wash your hands with hot soapy water after touching your cold sore


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