Gene could be factor in frequent cold sores
December 1st, 2011
04:14 PM ET

Gene could be factor in frequent cold sores

People who get frequent flare-ups of cold sores may have variations of an obscure gene, according to a study published this week in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. This is the first gene to be associated with cold sore outbreaks.

Cold sores are the lesions caused by herpes simplex virus type 1, a persistent and common virus. The sores usually appear on the lip, around the mouth and sometimes on the nose, chin and fingers. Apart from the distress the sores can cause by their appearance, they can be painful and stick around for two weeks.

The sores also are infectious. Once a person has the virus, there’s no cure or way to predict or prevent the cold sores. The virus remains in the body and then unpredictably flares up in an outbreak of sores.  There are medications to relieve the symptoms.

Herpes simplex virus type 1 is different from genital herpes, which is herpes simplex virus type 2.

When will we see a herpes cure?

Researchers from University of Utah and the University of Massachusetts say the gene behind the frequent cold sores is C21orf91. Everyone has the gene, but there are two variations of the C21orf91 that are associated with the greater frequency of the outbreaks.

This doesn’t mean that people who have one of these two gene variations will automatically get a slew of cold sores.

“Twenty-one percent of the trait is due to genetic factors,” said study author, Dr. John Kriesel who is also a research associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Utah School of Medicine. This means that 79% is due to other factors such as the virus strain and environmental factors.

Kriesel and the co-authors reached their findings after analyzing data from the gene sequences from 618 study participants - half of whom had cold sore outbreaks.

“The hope is if we can figure out what this protein is doing, we’ll find insight,” Kriesel said.  “There are other forms of herpes that are much more serious than cold sores.”

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. skylover

    I have genital herpes and know what you are going through. a Herpes Dating Site–pozloving.com– has helped me find quality dates with women who share my medical condition.
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    December 1, 2011 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • legalgal

      o.k. this is controversial, but things are changing very rapidly. The old "there is no cure for Herpes" edict is breaking down more and more each day as researchers develop new vaccines and treatments that are making progress. HSV2 has been controlled and even eradicated in some cases. There is a lot of good info here at http://www.viradux.com.

      February 26, 2013 at 01:11 | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      please please please look into viradux-coldsore, and no I don't work for them. Just a person who wants to share the great news about this amazing cold sore cure.

      April 13, 2013 at 11:58 | Report abuse |
  2. billblast


    December 2, 2011 at 01:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sara

    Supplementing with l-lysine tablets can prevent flare ups. L-lysine is an amino acid that the body can not manufacture on its own. Therefore, you must get it from foods. Cold sores occur when the immune system becomes weakened. L-lysine can help support the immune system so that the virus does not become active. Also, a good quality multivitamin(made from food, not man made) can help support the immune system.

    December 2, 2011 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark

      Wow, Sara you are so right. I found out about L-lysine about 30 years ago from a pharmacist and have not have a significant cold sore since then. Also, I have noticed that stress can trigger a flare up. Interesting. When I feel the flare comming I start taking my L-lysine and it goes away...everytime.

      December 2, 2011 at 11:50 | Report abuse |
    • K

      I can vouch for the effectiveness of L-lysine too. I get cold sores often (or used to) when my lips get chapped, eat too much sugar, get stressed, etc. As soon as I feel that tingle I take a lysine tablet and the cold sore never forms. If I catch it late and there is already one forming I take a couple tablets a few hours apart and it stops growing and quickly goes away. Works tons better than any ointment.

      December 2, 2011 at 14:15 | Report abuse |
    • Maria

      As soon as I notice a flare-up, I dose up on L-Lysine and Vitamin C. And then abreva. those three together seem to shorten my flare up.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:52 | Report abuse |
  4. mb

    Popular entertainment likes to stigmatize cold sore sufferers . I am specifically thinking of an episode of "The Office" and the recent movie "The Help". I wish you could write an article debunking these types of portrayals of the cause of cold sores.

    December 2, 2011 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. wyldbyll

    You can also find an L-lysine ointment for topical relief .

    December 2, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. mblh

    I find it amusing that the article seems to indicate that oral herpes is a mere inconvenience. I had only one sore in my life until after I had the swine flu. Since then I get them from time to time when I get over stressed. My outbreak is never just an inconvenience, I swell terribly I almost look like someone with Bells Palsy. Even after the sore heals I have awful nerve pain throughout that side of my face for up to a month. No, this can be just as serious as genital herpes since I was told a result can be permanent nerve damage. I take Lysine everyday and it does help keep it under control, increaesing the dosage at time of outbreak also helps it to heal much faster. The myth needs to end since I know there are several people that get this just as bad as I do and it has nothing to do with anything I did wrong.

    December 2, 2011 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. TheGaffe

    Wow, when my family first emigrated to Canada (from Scotland) in 1967, we were sent home from school if we had a flare-up of cold sores. The teachers and office staff had never seen them before, which amazed our parents. They (cold sores) are very common back in the UK... it's almost funny to look at old school photos and see half the kids with sores on picture day.

    December 2, 2011 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. c s

    I used to get them in my mouth all the time. I had one on the bottom of my tongue that did not heal for several weeks. I started taking extra Vitamin C for colds and since then I hardly have them. When I do have a sore in the mouth, I apply powdered Vitamin C directly on the sore. It sting for less than 30 minutes and by the next day, the sore is healed or almost healed. A second application and the sore is gone.

    December 2, 2011 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. B Perry

    Born in 1941, I started having coldsores when I was in my early teens and they continued up until I retired in 1993. I haven't had one since then. I do not believe that it is gene-related, stress yes , gene no.

    December 2, 2011 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Justme

      You "don't believe" it's genetic because of your experience? Do you not grasp the difference between anecdotes and research?

      December 3, 2011 at 08:35 | Report abuse |
    • wow

      Are you a MD or a researcher? If not, I believe you're probably wrong.

      December 4, 2011 at 02:12 | Report abuse |


    December 3, 2011 at 20:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Justme

      Adults actually know how to disable the caps key. Just sayin'.

      December 3, 2011 at 22:47 | Report abuse |
    • Eeyore

      "If the doctors would treat people these diseases would be out of control!" What "diseases" are "out of control"? Doctors ARE treating people. What would you suggest they do to keep cold sores "under control"?

      You don't sound very "adult". You write like a troll who's about 14.

      December 4, 2011 at 18:02 | Report abuse |
  11. TampaMel

    The article didn't go far enough. In our family, my wife gets a lot of cold sores and I have never had one. We have 2 boys, one gets them and the other, like me, has never had one. Is there a variation of the gene that makes one immune or are we just lucky?

    December 4, 2011 at 02:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jzopks

      That's a great question. I have always believed I was infected by my mother, so I have gone out of my way to not share food, drinks, silverware, etc. with my own children. I don't even kiss them on the cheek, I kiss them on their hair. Net result is that one child does not have any breakouts and the other child gets canker sores inside her mouth. The one who does not takes after her father; the one who does takes after me. After 16 years of marriage, my husband has never had a breakout. I have always wondered if there is some sort of immunity or genetic variation at work there. Both of my children are girls; fortunately, neither has ever had a full breakout like I experience.

      December 4, 2011 at 20:08 | Report abuse |
  12. amy

    funny, my doctor told me that type 1 and type 2 are interchangeable- mouth and genital. Someone with a cold sore on their mouth could pass it to someone else's genitals and vice versa. there are two types of the virus but they can infect either location. I believe my doctor more than this article.

    December 4, 2011 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JVC

      You are correct Amy. Both strains can infect either region, and there is a solid body of scientific, peer-reviewed literature on both strains stating that. There are many doctors spreading inaccurate info (they're not researchers people), and other doctors who say neither strain is worth fretting over. I'd tend to agree with the latter.

      December 5, 2011 at 09:43 | Report abuse |
  13. Josie

    I don't get cold sores except for once a year. They tend to last a few weeks and normally are around this time of year. In fact I have one now. For me all they single is the fact I am getting ready to fight actual colds the rest of winter. Ever since I had gotten really sick at the age of 19, its been like that. I deal with them, they go away and it's another year before i have one. Both of my parents get them, my brother use to get them bad. Now it's my niece...it's something we all deal with.

    December 4, 2011 at 22:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sam

    Antiviral drugs are very helpful in lessening the symptoms of both HSV 1 and 2, and shorten the time of the outbreaks by a lot (days). You need a prescription for them. Acyclovir (Zovirax), Valacyclovir (Valtrex) and Famciclovir (Famvir) are an antiviral drugs. They slows the growth and spread of the herpes virus so that the body can fight off the infection. Antivirals will not cure herpes, but they can lessen the symptoms of the infection. Faster and stronger then L-lysine.

    December 5, 2011 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. tere

    Dating in itself is hard, especially when you are dating with Herpes,which we all know is caused by a virus called HSV.However, Herpes dating sites provide the best place for singles with Herpes to date without possible rejection and discrimination. DateHSV. C O M which is ranked as the #1 Herpes singles dating site by CNN, now has more than 560,000 members. It’s hard to believe that a Herpes dating site can have so many members!

    December 7, 2011 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. JGM

    Sam is correct, after using Valtrex for a cold sore outbreak three or four times I haven't had another one in over five years.

    December 13, 2011 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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  19. Marlin Montagne

    old sores can basically assault a person's physique just from thinking "unclean thoughts". Even though individuals will go about assured what they're going to, rest assured that your cold sore outbreaks usually do not come from any thoughts, very good or poor, but rather a clear medical explanation. The truth, cold sores are primarily brought on by Herpes Simplex Virus, nothing at all over that, no thinking of negative thoughts, merely a virus. Do not mix up Herpes Simplex Virus Sort 1 (HSV-1) that are cold sores with Herpes Simplex Virus Sort two (HSV-2) which can be the form which is related with genitalia."

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