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How Common are Cold Sores?

Cold sores are extremely common throughout the globe and according to the World Health Organization, 3.7 billion people under age 50 have the cold sore virus (HSV-1) — that's 67 percent of the global population at that age bracket.

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More than half of the people in the United States have been infected with the cold sore virus, though many people never develop cold sores or have any symptoms. About 20 to 40 percent of people who have the virus trigger cold sores.

Does everyone get cold sores?

Not everyone who has HSV-1 gets cold sores. In fact most people who carry the virus aren't actually aware of it because it causes them no symptoms at all. Some people have frequently recurring cold sores around two or three times a year, while others have one cold sore and never have another. The frequency of a cold sore outbreak varies from person to person.

How common are cold sores on lips?

In the United States, between 50 and 80 percent of people have oral herpes, making them potentially susceptible to cold sores. Therefore, the chances of developing a cold sore on your lips are over 50 percent. Cold sores are most likely to show up on the outside of your mouth and lips, but you can also get them on your nose, cheeks, eyes, fingertips, widespread areas of skin and genitals.

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Who is affected by cold sores?

People of all ages can become infected with the cold sore virus. Many people are exposed to the virus during childhood, making it possible to develop a cold sore at any age. The good news is the chance of having a cold sore outbreak decreases after the age of 35. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found that people affected by cold sores have a mutation in a gene, which means their immune system is not able to prevent them from developing cold sores.