Cold sores are caused by certain strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 usually causes cold sores. HSV-2 is usually responsible for genital herpes. However, either type can cause sores in the facial area or on the genitals. Most people who are infected with the virus that causes cold sores never develop signs and symptoms. The herpes simplex virus usually enters the body through a break in the skin around or inside the mouth. It is usually spread when a person touches a cold sore or touches infected fluid-such as from sharing eating utensils or razors, kissing an infected person, or touching that person's saliva. A parent who has a cold sore often spreads the infection to his or her child in this way. Cold sores can also be spread to other areas of the body. In Europe, data are scarce and the epidemiological situation in Switzerland is unknown. In 1997 we performed serological examinations in 151 adult volunteers (87% between 20 and 49 years of age) of a low-risk population from the region of Basel with no history of genital herpes or any other sexually transmitted disease. The overall seroprevalence of HSV-1 was 77% and an annual seroconversion rate of 4.6% (95% CI: 3.8-5.6) was estimated for both sexes. Of the 51 subjects with no symptoms of orolabial herpes, 25 (49%) proved to be HSV-1 seropositive. In contrast, of 91 patients with symptoms of orolabial herpes, 90 (97%) had serum antibodies against HSV-1. The seroprevalence of HSV-2 was 14.6% for women (n = 89) and 8.1% for men (n = 62). The annual seroconversion rate was estimated to be 0.61% (95% CI: 0.14-1.4) for women and 0.49% (95% CI: 0.09-1.4) for men for the period after 1985 (when "safer sex" and the use of condoms were promoted). Our results indicate the significance of herpes simplex virus type 2 infections in Switzerland. More detailed studies are needed to describe the epidemiology of HSV-2 infections more reliably, especially in view of progress in the development of vaccines against HSV infections. Cold sores usually clear up without treatment within 7 to 10 days. Antiviral tablets or cream can be used to ease your symptoms and speed up the healing time.
Antiviral creams such as aciclovir or penciclovir (also known as Fenistil) may speed up the healing time of a recurrent cold sore infection if used correctly.Cold sore creams are widely available over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription. They are only effective if you apply them as soon as the first signs of a cold sore appear, when the herpes simplex virus is spreading and replicating. Using an antiviral cream after this initial period is unlikely to have much effect. Cold sore patches that contain a special gel called hydrocolloid are also available. They are an effective treatment for skin wounds and are placed over the cold sore to hide the sore area while it heals Various vaccine candidates have been developed, the first ones in the 1920s, but none has been successful to date. Due to the genetic similarity of both herpes simplex virus types (HSV-1 and HSV-2), the development of a prophylactic-therapeutic vaccine which is proven effective against one type of the virus would provide fundamentals for vaccine-development for the other virus type. As of 2015, several vaccine candidates are in different stages of clinical trials as they are being tested for safety and efficacy, including at least three vaccine candidates in the US and one in Australia.