Recurrent herpes simplex is a viral infection that occurs repeatedly in individuals who have experienced the primary infection (usually a more severe episode). Lesions associated with the disease - called herpetic lesions, or more commonly, cold sores or fever blisters - are characterized by the eruption of small, usually painful blisters on the lips, gums or roof of the mouth. An outbreak usually begins with a cluster of small, blisterlike formations that are filled with a clear, yellowish fluid, about one millimeter in diameter. The blisters soon rupture and ooze, resulting in small, superficial ulcers that show up as well-defined red areas. Lip lesions, known as herpes labialis, also look like small blisters; they can merge and tend to form scabs after they rupture. Frequently, several small blisters will merge to form a 3 milimeter ulcer.

The herpes simplex virus is most common among teenagers and young adults. It is very contagious, spreading via direct contact with the infected individual or through contact with infected towels, toothbrushes and razors. Symptoms appear anywhere from one to three weeks after initial exposure.

Herpes simplex lesions last for a week to ten days, then begin to subside, with no permanent scarring. Once obvious signs and symptoms disappear, the virus is considered latent; it still exists within the body, but shows no symptoms. Outbreaks will usually occur again in the same site. They are often triggered by sun exposure, the menstrual cycle, or illness. However, these conditions do not have to be present to initiate an outbreak. The frequency of the outbreaks varies greatly between individuals.

* We may prescribe an antiviral medication, which will sometimes shorten the course of the symptoms and decrease pain.

* Washing the infected area gently with water and an antiseptic soap can offer some relief, and will minimize the spread of the virus.

* Applying either a warm compress or ice to the area may reduce discomfort.