“Despite their name, cold sores don't have anything to do with having a cold,” says Kim Blake, a professor in the department of paediatrics at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Cold sores — fluid-filled blisters that most commonly appear on the lips — are caused by a strain of the herpes simplex virus called HSV-1 (it’s HSV-2 that causes genital warts). According to the Alberta Health and Wellness Disease Management Guidelines, approximately 40 percent of children are born with the infection, but lesions may not necessarily appear until much later.
The virus is spread through saliva and most often contracted by preschoolers who are surrounded by other possibly infected kidlets who are frequently touching their hands to their mouths. If your child has a cold sore, make sure she washes her hands frequently to stop the spread to other people. Sharing cups, utensils and even towels should be off-limits during an outbreak, until the cold sore is completely healed. (Ask your pharmacist for recommendations on over-the-counter cures.) To prevent secondary infections, make sure she doesn’t pick at the spot.
The virus can become dormant in the body, never causing another cold sore, or some kids will continue to experience them throughout their lives. Immune suppressors like stress and illness can trigger an outbreak, as can excessive exposure to sun and wind.
Similarly, the abrupt change in temperature in the fall, and suddenly, chilly air on the lips, can often trigger one too, says Blake. Her cold weather tip? A slick of petroleum jelly across your child’s lips will create a protective barrier that can prevent a sore from developing. You can also try a product that contains lysine, an amino acid that can reduce the severity and duration of a cold sore.
This article appeared in our December 2012 issue with the headline "Sore spot", p.34.
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