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Cold sores, or Herpes labialis, are painful and unsightly blisters that erupt on the face, usually around the mouth. They are caused by the Herpes virus, but a different strain from the one that causes genital herpes. The virus that causes them is closely related to the virus that causes shingles and chicklenpox, the Varicella zoster or Herpes zoster virus (they are the same). It lives, like the Herpes zoster virus, in the nerve roots near the spine and multiplies to cause illness in response to who knows what. Like shingles, the attacks tend to occur again and again over the years and always come in exactly the same spot on the skin.
Since the advent of Zovirax® and newer antiviral agents we now at least have a decent treatment for these painful and embarrassing attacks.