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Oral Herpes

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
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