Difference Between Cold Sores and Herpes

Difference Between Cold Sores and Herpes

When it comes to cold sores and herpes, it can difficult to discern the difference between the two, due to the amount of misinformation that is currently present. There is a societal stigma attached to the onset of herpes that is not present with cold sores, which causes people to mislead others about the true origin of the virus.

However, there are two very crucial distinctions to be made between the herpes virus and cold sores. These two definitions are based on varied factors, including the virus strain, as well as the location where the virus is taking place.

Cold sores can also be known as fever blisters and the virus that causes them is known as HSV-1, while herpes results from a much different viral strain, which is known as HSV-2.


One of the few similarities between cold sores and the herpes virus is that both strains of the virus are typically attracted to mucous membranes. Even though both of these skin conditions can develop anywhere on the person’s body, cold sores tend to pop up on areas above the neck, whereas herpes is usually more visible below the waist.

HSV-1 (cold sores) and HSV-2 (herpes) are both transmitted in very different manners. Cold sores are be contracted in a number of ways and while some may know cold sores as the “kissing disease”, this is not the only that cold sores are transmitted from person. Innocuous events such as sharing the same silverware or even the same linens as a person with HSV-1 can cause the virus to spread further.


Although there are a few other methods to contract the herpes virus and it is not always transmitted through sexual contact between two partners, it is most often spread by those who are already HSV-2 positive. This is due to the fact that the herpes virus is actually much more omnipresent in modern day society than most have been led to believe.

For example, it is believed that at least two out of every ten people who live in the United States are currently carrying the herpes virus, among the population of those who are 15 and older. As for cold sores, these take place at even higher rate of occurrence, affecting more than half of the nation’s over 15 population.

It is estimated that at least 17 percent of the overall population are carriers of the herpes virus and since it is not always visible or easy to detect, it can be difficult to notice and/or receive treatment for. The rate of people who develop cold sores also tends to increase with age and an estimated seven out of every ten Americans deals with an outbreak of cold sores before they’ve reached the age of 40.


The age in which each virus is acquired also differs greatly. The virus that cold sores are caused by is typically contracted at a young age and the person is infected by the time they reach puberty. The age of acquisition for herpes tends to be much different, because most cases are contracted with sexual contact. As a result, herpes is typically acquired during the teenage years and during adulthood.


Another major difference between herpes and cold sores are the causes for recurrences. When cold sores decide to make a reappearance, they typically do so after the patient has recently suffered from a cold or some other form of common illness. A cold sore can also happen due to a person’s sustaining of injuries to their mouth area. If too much time is spent in the sun, this can also aggravate a cold sore virus and lead to an occurrence.

Herpes recurrences tend to take place under vastly difference. The herpes virus experiences flare ups during moments in life that are extremely stressful, or because of poor dietary and exercise habits, and also insomnia. As for symptoms of an outbreak, cold sore outbreaks are known to happen at a much less frequent rate than herpes outbreaks. The symptoms of a cold sore outbreak are also much milder than that of a herpes outbreak.

What the Statistics Say

According to medical studies, the shedding rates for cold sores and herpes also vary. On average, a person who is suffering from cold sores that are in and around their mouth can shed at rates of up to 33 percent, but as low as 6 percent. Herpes does not typically shed from the mouth and less than 1 percent of patients who have been tested have been shown to shed from the mouth.

As you might expect from the low number of herpes who have shed from the mouth, the number of people who have been found to shed cold sores from their genitalia is also low. Less than 5 percent of patients who are diagnosed with cold sores shed from their genitals, while patients who have herpes shed from their genitals at a rate of at least three to five times as much as a patient who is suffering from cold sores.

In the End

Even though cold sores and herpes are often mistaken for one another, there are a plethora of dissimilarities between the two viruses. HSV-1 and HSV-2 each occur for different reasons, at different stages in life, due to differing forms of human contact. If you or someone you love is suffering from cold sores or herpes, seek medical attention immediately, to decrease the risk of spreading the virus to those around you.