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I have a cold sore. Does that mean I have herpes?

Cold sores are caused by a strain (or type) of the herpes simplex virus (HSV), so if you have cold sores (which are sometimes called fever blisters), you have herpes. But the type of herpes that can cause cold sores is often spread between people who have never had sex. In fact, most people get oral herpes from a relative or friend from a non-sexual kiss and a lot of people carry the virus, even if they never get the cold sores it causes.

There are two types of herpes viruses—oral and genital. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is the most common cause of oral herpes, and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is the most common cause of genital herpes. HSV-1 and HSV-2 can both be transmitted from mouth to mouth, mouth to genitals, genitals to mouth and genitals to genitals. Herpes is also the only sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can be transmitted through kissing. Because it is possible to transmit herpes from the mouth to the genitals or the genitals to the mouth, using a condom or dental dam for oral sex can help to prevent the spread of herpes. But if a person has sores outside of the areas protected by the latex, exposure can still happen.

For more information on herpes testing, treatment and support, visit the American Sexual Health Association’s website. There are medicines available to treat herpes, but there is no cure.

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