Oral Herpes Overview
Oral herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus causes painful sores on your lips, gums, tongue, roof of your mouth, and inside your cheeks. It also can cause symptoms such as fever and muscle aches.
- The herpes simplex virus affects only humans. Mouth sores most commonly occur in children aged 1-2 years, but they can affect people at any age and any time of the year.
- People contract herpes by touching infected saliva, mucous membranes, or skin. Because the virus is highly contagious, most people have been infected by at least 1 herpes subtype before adulthood.
- After the herpes virus infects you, it has a rather unique ability to proceed to 3 stages.
- Primary infection: The virus enters your skin or mucous membrane and reproduces. During this stage, oral sores and other symptoms, such as fever, may develop.
- The virus may not cause any sores and symptoms. You may not know that you have it. This is called asymptomatic infection.
- Asymptomatic infection occurs twice as often as the disease with symptoms.
- Latency: From the infected site, the virus moves to a mass of nervous tissue in your spine called the dorsal root ganglion. There the virus reproduces again and becomes inactive.
- Recurrence: When you encounter certain stresses, emotional or physical, the virus may reactivate and cause new sores and symptoms.
Oral Herpes Causes
Herpes simplex is a DNA virus that causes sores in and around your mouth. Two herpes subtypes may cause these sores.
- Herpes simplex virus, type 1 or herpes-1, which causes 80% of cases of oral herpes infections
- Herpes simplex virus, type 2 or herpes-2, which causes the rest
Oral Herpes Symptoms
Incubation period: For oral herpes, the amount of time between contact with the virus and the appearance of symptoms, the incubation period, is 2-12 days. Most people average about 4 days.
- Duration of illness: Signs and symptoms will last 2-3 weeks. Fever, tiredness, muscle aches, and irritability may occur.
- Pain, burning, tingling, or itching occurs at the infection site before the sores appear. Then clusters of blisters erupt. These blisters break down rapidly and, when seen, appear as tiny, shallow, gray ulcers on a red base. A few days later, they become crusted or scabbed and appear drier and more yellow
- Oral sores: The most intense pain caused by these sores occurs at the onset and make eating and drinking difficult.
- The sores may occur on the lips, the gums, the front of the tongue, the inside of the cheeks, the throat, and the roof of the mouth.
- They may also extend down the chin and neck.
- The gums may become mildly swollen and red and may bleed.
- Neck lymph nodes often swell and become painful.
- In people in their teens and 20s, herpes may cause a painful throat with shallow ulcers and a grayish coating on the tonsils.