More people have been infected with HSV-1 than HSV-2, though either type can cause both cold sores and genital herpes. In the United States, around 58% of the population is infected with HSV-1, and around 16% are infected with HSV-2. Of those with HSV-2, less than 19% know they are infected.
Not everyone who is infected with one or both HSV strains gets visible cold sores. Though most adults worldwide have been infected, only about 20% of people get cold sores, the painful crusty sores that tend to form around the mouth. A new genetic study may provide answers to questions about why some people are plagued with cold sores and others never get them.
The University of Edinburgh Genetic Study
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland identified several genes that were candidates for making a protein that prevents HSV from becoming active and causing cold sore outbreaks. Once researchers identified possible genes, they tested blood samples of 20 people with cold sores. They discovered that a gene called IL28B was mutated in people who got cold sores.
The mutated version of IL28B cannot produce the protein that prevents HSV from becoming active, so the immune system has a harder time fighting off cold sores. Researcher Juergen Haas of the University of Edinburgh said in a news release that, “until now, we never knew why only some [people] develop cold sores.” Furthermore, “Knowing that susceptibility to the virus involved relates to people’s genes reinforces the need to research not only the evolution of viruses themselves, but also the susceptibility of hosts to infection.”
Interestingly, IL28B is also important in treatment response in patients with hepatitis C. When the gene is mutated, patients tend to respond less favorably to treatment. The IL28B research, which was published in PLOS Pathogens, helps establish that one genetic mutation may affect reaction to different viruses.
How to Prevent Cold Sores
While the new research is exciting, it doesn’t help cold sore suffers right now. If you’re susceptible to cold sores, you can do your part to minimize outbreaks by
- Washing hands after touching a cold sore
- Replacing your toothbrush frequently
- Avoiding sharing utensils, towels, or razors with anyone who has a cold sore
- Applying sunscreen to your face and lips before prolonged sun exposure
The treatments for cold sores vary in effectiveness from person to person, and sometimes from outbreak to outbreak. Here are the main treatments you can try for treating cold sores.
An over-the-counter medication called Abreva can reduce the size of cold sores and make them less painful. The non-prescription eye drops made by Visine can also shrink swelling of blood vessels in and around the cold sore and make them less red. But you should never, ever use Visine in eyes after it’s been used on or near cold sores due to the risk of herpes infection of the eye.
Some people find relief from simple cold compresses or tea bags applied to cold sores for around 20 minutes. Launder washcloths used for cold compresses after use.
L-LysineL-lysine supplements (but not D-lysine supplements) reportedly can keep HSV in check and decrease the number of outbreaks in some people. Some claim that sores heal more rapidly when they are taking 1 to 3 grams of L-lysine per day. Not much scientific research has been done on L-lysine and cold sores, and studies that have been done have mixed results. Still, L-lysine in moderate doses may be worth a try for those plagued with recurrent cold sores.
If you have a cold sore that you need gone fast (such as for your wedding day, or a big job interview), and you can get an appointment with a doctor right away, an injection of diluted cortisone into the cold sore can reduce inflammation quickly, according to Dr. Rebecca Baxt, board-certified New York dermatologist.
Prescription Medications: The Gold Standard
Valacyclovir, sold under the name Valtrex, is considered the gold standard for treating cold sore outbreaks. This oral anti-viral medication is most effective when it’s started within 48 hours of the first signs of an outbreak. Compared to other oral anti-viral drugs used to treat cold sores, Valtrex is absorbed better by the digestive tract and is considered more effective for most people.
Cold sores are a painful and sometimes embarrassing affliction. But you’re not alone if you get them – millions of others get them too. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat them and help prevent transmission. AccessRx.com dispenses Valtrex through US-licensed pharmacists, at great prices, and with complete commitment to online and customer privacy. AccessRx.com ships quickly — often on the same day of the order — so you can start treating a cold sore outbreak right away.