Herpes (HSV-1)

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1)

Herpes (HSV-1) or type 1 is a common infection which typically causes orolabial herpes (relating to the mouth and lips. One of the main symptoms is a rash of blisters that are sometimes referred to as a herpes rash. This rash of blisters is commonly known as cold sores. It spreads in the saliva and tends to affect the area around the mouth and nose.

HSV-1 is highly contagious in that it is common and endemic throughout the world. Most HSV-1 infections are acquired during childhood, and infection is lifelong. link

About 90 percent of adults worldwide even those who’ve never had symptoms of an infection test positive for evidence of the virus that causes cold sores. link


HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact to cause oral herpes infection, via contact with the HSV-1 virus in sores, saliva, and surfaces in or around the mouth. Shared eating utensils, razors and towels, as well as kissing, may spread HSV-1.

HSV-1 can be transmitted from oral or skin surfaces that appear normal and when there are no symptoms present. However, the greatest risk of transmission is when there are active sores. link

It can also be transmitted to the genital area through oral-genital contact to cause genital herpes.


HSV-1 causes small sores to appear on the skin. These usually develop around the mouth and nose, but they can appear nearly anywhere on the body, including the fingers. Where the rash appears depends on where a person has acquired the infection. link

Initial signs may occur a day or so before the sores appear. These sores are also called fever blisters. They are tiny, fluid-filled blisters on and around the lips. After the blister breaks a crust forms over the resulting sore. link Cold sores usually heal in two to four weeks without leaving a scar. The rash lasts approximately 7-10 days. Symptoms may include:

  • tingling, burning, or itching sensation
  • sores can be painful, and tender
  • appearance of small, fluid filled blisters which become pustules
  • pustules will open and ooze
  • swollen glands
  • fever


Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, are the most effective medications available for people infected with HSV. These can help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms, but cannot cure the infection.


The development of better treatment and prevention interventions is needed, particularly HSV vaccines. The World Health Organisation and partners are working to accelerate research to develop new strategies for prevention and control l HSV-1 infection. Such research includes the development of HSV vaccines and topical microbicides. Several candidate vaccines and microbicides are currently being studied and a number of vaccines are being tested.