Dear Dr. Dick,
Every winter, I find myself irritated with a cold sore. And every winter, when it gets cold, I find myself cuddling up with someone...and getting really warm, and eventually hot under the sheets. If I have a cold sore, will it turn to genital herpes? I want to be safe and not give an STD to my partners.
--Cold & Cuddly Cub

Dear CCC,
That's really great to hear that you are concerned with your partners as much as you are with your sexual health! It's definitely a good way to enjoy the holidays.

Let's start with the basics and make sure we are on the same page with cold sores.

Cold sores (aka fever blisters) are small red blisters that usually appear on the lips and outer edges of the mouth. They often weep a clear liquid and form scabs after a few days.

Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes-1 virus (not
the herpes-2 virus, which causes genital herpes, an STD). Herpes-1 virus can lay dormant in the body and becomes active later when something triggers it.

There is no cure for cold sores, but there are remedies you can use that will reduce the severity and frequency of them. Cold sores may appear after colds, fevers, exposure to the sun, stress, during or for no apparent reason. Generally it is felt that anything that compromises the immune system may trigger the cold sores, such as infection, cancer or any illness.

If you have a cold sore already, pop the sore so it will drain and be able to dry out and heal faster.


  • Prevention of cold sores is advisable. Herpes simplex is highly contagious!
  • Avoid kissing someone with cold sores or having sex with someone who has genital
  • herpes. Exposure to sun triggers sores. Use a sunscreen of at least 15 SPF on your lips and other susceptible areas.
  • If stress triggers them, practice relaxation techniques.
  • Don't use the same towels, razors or utensils as someone with cold sores.
  • Vitamin C: Take 200-500 mg. of vitamin C three times a day. This greatly reduces the duration of the sores.
  • Vitamin E: Applied topically, will provide pain relief.
  • Yogurt: Eating plain yogurt (with acidophilus) is a good preventive measure. Yogurt seems to stimulate the immune system.

Both herpes-1 and herpes-2 can cause cold sores and genital herpes, but cold sores are usually caused by HSV-1 and genital herpes usually by HSV-2.

However, it does compromise anyone with a cold sore for exposure to genital herpes, especially with oral sex or any type of skin contact. Condoms and dental dams maybe used, but can not guarantee protection.

If you believe you have been exposed to HSV-2 (Herpes-2), get tested! Call 205.STD (7837) or the Link Study, a research herpes trial at the UW (206) 251-5821.
--Dr. Dick

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