The international health body revealed that about seven out of 10 people under 50 worldwide are infected with the incurable herpes simplex virus type 1, meaning that if you have it, you aren't as alone as you might have thought.
Often called oral herpes, HSV-1 typically happens when people swap saliva through kissing, shared utensils and oral sex. The virus causes cold sores around the mouth, but it can also cause blisters and ulcers around the genitals.
The majority of people contract it as a child, meaning that sex generally has little do with it. That's when I got it. Of course, I have no idea actually when it happened, but I vividly remember a period of time during Junior High when I repeatedly developed cold sore after cold sore in the same spot on my lower lip. I remember my doctor saying that stress can cause cold sores, and arguably that was one of the most stressful times of my life. Oh, puberty.
There are medications that can treat the symptoms, but the WHO notes that there is no "permanent and curative treatment" for HSV-1.
That's not to say you can't do things to prevent them. My mom, tired of my complaining, set out to find a treatment for my constant sores. She eventually talked to a pharmacist who recommended a daily lysine supplement. Though there is no definitive study as to why, lysine, an amino acid, is believed to counteract arginine, another amino that seems to trigger cold sores.
And it absolutely worked for me. Once I started taking a daily lysine pill my cold sores disappeared and haven't returned in the nearly 20 years since. I still take the supplement today, though my sores don't return even if I skip a dose (or several months' worth).
But that doesn't mean HSV-1 is totally innocuous and you shouldn't worry about it at all. Though most don't experience any symptoms, those with weak immune systems can develop encephalitis or eye disease.
Of course, my experience is anecdotal and I'm not a medical professional, so what worked for me might not work for you. Your doctor should always be in the know when you decide to tackle HSV-1 treatment — and the WHO hopes that someday they'll find a way to prevent this virus for good.
"WHO and partners are working to accelerate development of (herpes) vaccines and topical microbicides, which will have a crucial role in preventing these infections in the future," the organization said in a statement.
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