CLUSTERS of blisters can appear just about anywhere on your child's body. But when they appear on or near your child's mouth and/or lips, as well as other areas of the face, especially if accompanied by pain, a burning sensation or itchiness, paediatrician Dr Anona Griffith says the culprit may be cold sores.
“Cold sores are painful blisters or sores that are found around and inside the mouth. It is a relatively common condition and is caused by a virus known as the Herpes simplex virus type one (HSV1),” Dr Griffith said.
She explained that HSV1 affects mainly tissues of the mouth and face, while its counterpart – herpes simplex two (HSV2) – is responsible for infections affecting the genital area.
The condition, which is also known as fever blisters or night fever – since the condition, in its first presentation, may be accompanied by a fever – is transmitted by contact with infected persons or objects.
“HSV1 is spread commonly through kissing, sharing of eating utensils including cups, straws, even touching the face with unwashed hands after being in contact with an infected person or object,” Dr Griffith advised.
She said that this underscores the importance of practising proper hygiene when caring for your child, asking friends and family to refrain from kissing the child, and ensuring that you take extra precautions in attending to your child when you have an outbreak. She notes, however, that in most cases children will contract the virus through peer interaction at the kindergarten level.
“Preschool age is the most common time at which cold sores first present, which is also based on the pattern of interaction among children. The blisters tend to start as small bumps which may contain fluid and these can then blend with other blisters in close proximity and enlarge. Some may rupture and form a crust,” Dr Griffith said.
At the same time, she said that children may experience other symptoms associated with the condition such as swollen glands (wax and cannon) in the head and neck area, sore throat and mouth, accompanied by pain, especially if sores are present inside the mouth.
“Once contracted, the virus causes an infection that can last up to two weeks. Following that initial illness, the virus becomes inactive or dormant. It can, however, be reactivated, and the course of the subsequent illnesses are usually milder and shorter than the previous ones, usually lasting up to eight days,” she explained.
To prevent the spread of the condition, Dr Griffith said that caregivers, parents and teachers should encourage children to practise proper hygiene such as hand washing, avoiding people with the illness, monitoring personal space, and never sharing utensils, lip glosses or any other personal care items that are used anywhere on the face. Similarly, parents and caregivers are expected to observe these practices when interacting with children.
“Even though the condition will go away on its own and as such does not require prescription drugs, there are treatment options available that could address discomfort; for example, the use of painkillers, cool soothing foods and liquids, or icing the sores. There is also the issue of aesthetics — nobody wants to be walking around with a visible sore — so instead of allowing the sores to go away on their own, there are drugs available to speed up this process. These may be taken internally or applied to the skin,” Dr Griffith advised.
Even though the course may be mild, Dr Griffith said that medical attention should be sought if there are any concerns, and for confirmation of the condition. She also warned that if a high fever persists, if the blisters become infected, pus-filled and begin to spread, and if the child seems very ill, then you should get the child to a physician immediately.