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Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a virus that causes infections. There are two types of this virus. One type usually causes cold sores around the lips that are sometimes called fever blisters. The other type usually causes sores on the genitals (private parts). Either type can infect the mouth or genital area. Herpes can be spread even when the infected person has no sores or outward signs of infection. But it spreads most easily when infected mucous membranes or skin touch the lips or genitals of another person. That is why it is extremely important not to have sex or kiss anyone when herpes sores are present.
Symptoms of herpes usually begin within 2 to 20 days after contact with the HSV virus. The skin becomes painful or it may itch, burn or tingle. Then one or more blisters appear. The blisters open and the sores (sometimes called ulcers) heal over without leaving a scar. Sometimes flu-like symptoms such as swollen glands, body aches and fever also develop.
When the sores have healed and the skin looks normal again, the virus is no longer on the surface of the skin. However, the herpes virus lives in the nerve cells. It can cause sores on the skin in the future, even if you have no more contact with an infected person. The sores can come back at any time when you have a lot of stress, get too tired or have illness, irritated skin, sunburn or a poor diet. It can also come back during menstruation. Sometimes the sores can come back for no reason.
Ask your nurse, doctor or school nurse for more information. By understanding herpes, you can deal in a positive way with your concerns and fears (Picture 1).
For more information, you may call the Herpes Resource Center Hotline at (415) 328-7710, Monday through Friday, between 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Herpes Simplex Virus (PDF)
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