Sunday, July 06, 2008

Cold Sores

I don't get cold sores. Neither do Paul, either of our girls, or anyone else in my family (mom, dad, sisters).

Apparently, this is somewhat rare, as most Americans do get cold sores.

It's not the end of the world, but cold sores aren't great things to get (see below).

It freaks me out (and frustrates me) when people with cold sores put their mouths (and sores) close to my children. This weekend, we hung out with a good friend who had a cold sore. This friend is great with the girls, babysits them, etc. And kept kissing on them this weekend.

It really bothered me, but I couldn't think of a way to bring it up without sounding like an ass (though I kept washing their hands and wiping them down with antimicrobial wipes, probably uselessly). Since it still bothered me the next day, I sent a brief email, as light and jokey as I could make it, requesting that this friend not kiss my kids with a fever blister.

I mentioned the situation to another friend, who seemed nonplussed. "It just never would have occurred to me that cold sores would be a big deal," she said.

Huh. Maybe this is just me (and the rest of my family) who takes this seriously?

A little general information on cold sores:
  • "Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both virus types can cause lip and mouth sores and genital herpes."
  • They're very contagious, and can definitely be spread by kissing (and sharing cups and utensils).
  • Symptoms can include pain, fever and malaise, sore throat, and swollen glands.
  • The herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores cannot be cured. After you get infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life.
  • It can be worse in people who are immuno-compromised. Ellie doesn't have the best immune system in the world.
  • Scientific American asks: Does Herpes Cause Brain Cancer? "The deadliest and most common type of brain cancer has a strange bedfellow: cytomegalovirus, a kind of herpes present in about 80 percent of the U.S. population."

I'd love to hear your opinion: was it rude of me to ask this of my friend? Am I completely nuts to not want this virus for myself and my kids?


Nick McGivney said...

Not rude. I don't know if we're all just hyper-aware of it (or just all the nerds I know are!) but it's no big deal over this side of the world to scream 'DO NOT PUT THOSE LIPS ANYWHERE NEAR ME, YOU HERPES-RIDDEN GHOUL!' Ok, the herpes-ridden ghoul bit is possibly a tad on the strong side, but there's no point in soft-shoeing this one. My coldsore pops up every ten years or so to say hello. Mrs M banishes me to the garage for that two-week spell.

the direct approach is usually quite effective, and I can't honestly say I've known anyone to get offended. In fact, most people are proactive about their coldsores. I wish I'd had a buck for every time someone hugged me instead and said to me 'I don't want to pass this thing on.' Now that I think about, actually none of those girls had coldsores at all. HEY! Wait a minute...


Amy said...

You handled it a lot more tactfully than I would have!

Amy @

Penny L. Richards said...

Not rude at all. It's not like you've laid down a permanent ban on kissing or visiting. You just don't want active virus-related sores near your kid's faces. That doesn't strike me as unreasonable. Like Nick says, most people are already aware that they should be careful, and make the necessary adjustments--you only have to remind the rest.

Sarahlynn said...

Whew! OK, maybe I'm not nuts, then. Thank you both.

My friend never replied to the email I sent, so I assume that I have given offense. Sigh.

Orange said...

My family of origin never had cold sores--until my sister's boyfriend put his cold-sored lips all over her. Yes, she contracted an outbreak of herpes sores in the nether parts and a lifetime predisposition to oral cold sores. And that first infection? Is a doozy. She felt like utter crap, was miserable with the pain, and ran a high fever for days.

There was a theory out there that really fussy teething babies with fevers have actually encountered HSV for the first time and that it's the virus causing the fever. I don't know whether that's been borne out, though.

When my sister has a cold sore, which isn't often at all, she makes a point of not sharing drinks with other people.

(P.S. Cytomegalovirus and HSV may be cousins, but I don't think CMV is carried in cold sores.)

Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, Penny. It's reassuring that some people do know not to do this!

Orange, thank you for the VERY good news about cytomegalovirus!

deb said...

You are totally within your rights to have said something - though it might have been better to pull her aside after it happened the first time and been matter of fact. It would have been uncomfortable for you both, for sure. But - put yourself in her shoes for a second - If she really had no knowledge that she was contagous, and she gets this e-mail from you the next day, she may feel mortified. Bad enough to have a cold sore, but if she noticed you wiping down the kids and realizes in hindsight that was happening after she went near them... well that doesn't feel good, I'm sure.

There was no perfect way to handle this though. You know your friend better than I do, but that's just my first thought on the matter.

My husband has an outbreak on his lip probably every other summer and he is always very careful now -but that was only after we were married and I informed him it was contagious - since he's had them since childhood, no one ever told him. Though I sort of remember the doctor telling me when my son had his initial outbreak as a baby (sores all over his gums, so I understand the teething comment) she said not to assume that he was going to be plagued with outbreaks on his lips - that they were now thinking most people are exposed as babies and carry around HSV-1 and never have an outbreak again after the initial infection.

Lane J said...

My mom and grandmother get cold sores all the time. My mom doesn't think much of it and doesn't understand why I don't want to be around her when they break out...sometimes it seems as if she wanted to share it with someone.

You were completely in your rights to let your friend know that you didn't like her kissing on your kids. Give here a couple days and call her just to see how things are going.

Psycho Kitty said...

Totally not rude to say something, although I would do it at the time and be direct about it--there's nothing rude in saying, "Sweetie, Ellie's got immune issues and I really don't want her to catch the virus that causes cold sores. It can cause all sorts of other issues, too, so I hope you aren't offended, but I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't kiss on the girls when you've got one." In my experience, the post-incident, "I'm trying really hard not to offen you", circumspect requests are the ones that can come off as kind of passive aggressive. Just say no to the Passive Aggression!

Jessica said...

Not rude at all in my opinion....I would consider it a general common courtesy not to kiss someone (let alone children) with a cold sore.

I have to admit, I'm wondering if I know this person - but the only person I know who occasionally gets cold sores would be more conscientious (I think).

liss n kids said...

I am freaked waaayyyy out by cold sores. Nobody in my family got them, until suddenly my mom was exposed, and now she breaks out every so often. Yuck! She is very careful around the kids then, and I would surely stop someone with a cold sore from getting near my kiddos with those lips! The late email is a little passive agressive, I guess, but I can see being uncomfortable in the moment and just wanting to let her know for next time. I often can express things a lot better in writing. She may be offended, but I would guess that she just didn't know she was contagious.

brooke said...

i don't get cold sores either. i get canker sores, but i just looked them up to make sure that they weren't related. anyhow - i remember a friend having cold sores being super anal about not letting anyone use her water bottle, drink after her or eat from her plate. i thought she was going a bit overboard at the time, but later was incredibly grateful that she was looking out for folks. so, given that - i don't think you are being to anal at all. i think you should look out for your kids. and i think folks who are having an out break should be as anal as my friend was so as not to transmit the virus.


Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, Brooke. I agree; your friend was being very concientious!

Deb, PK, and Liss, the friend was a guy, and I wonder if that played into my discomfort with pushing for a direct confrontation. (That plus there were other people around and privacy was near impossible.)

I did try very hard not to be passive-agressive with my email. I tried to let it go . . . and just couldn't. Oh, well.

I'll email later in the week with a dinner invitation to try to patch things up.

Deb, I waited until he was gone to start the frantic wiping. While our guests were still in the house, I was able to distract myself with hostessy things and not concentrate on my discomfort, which then totally overwhelmed me at the first quiet moment.

Lane, your mom, oooh, that's hard.

PK, your "Ellie's got immune issues" is perfect and I will use it from now on!

Jessica, well, maybe I misunderstood the situation. An unfortunate shaving accident, perhaps?

Liss, me too (with the writing). In fact, our old marriage therapist used to assign Paul and me writing assigments for hot button discussions sometimes, since we both express ourselves better that way than in in the heat of an argument.

Kristi said...

How rude of the friend! I get cold sores (and I hate them), and I try really really really hard not to give them to anyone else. One of my sisters brought them home from a babysitter's when she was preschool age (caught from the babysitter's kid) and my mom was furious, and never used that sitter again. Of course, I'm the only one that my sis managed to spread them to.

Besides all the more serious side effects you've mentioned, they hurt. It's like having open scrapes on your face that pull and sting. My sister used to get them all the way up into her nose as a kid--ouch! If I get one, it usually looks like a large zit on my lip (oh so attractive)

In the 13 years I've been dating/married to my husband, I've never infected him, nor my kids. Outbreaks are very rare these days (once in the last 5 years), but they happen, and I don't even kiss my own kids until I'm healed.

Gently educating people with cold sores to treat them seriously is important. It sucks to feel self conscious about them, but it is worse to force that on other people, especially children.

HiddenChicken said...

Yikes! I don't think you were rude at all. I've never had a cold sore, either, but I can't imagine they'd be very comfortable. I certainly wouldn't want someone kissing my son if they had a cold sore.

Dinner is probably a good idea, or cookies or something along those lines. Whatever gesture you're most comfortable with and your friend is most likely to accept. After all, it's not like you told them that you didn't want their disease-ridden carcass anywhere near your children - you simply asked them not to rub cold-sore lips on your kids (I've been wanting to say disease-ridden carcass all day). I'm sure your friend was more embarrassed than anything else. Sometimes if I feel like an idiot, I'll go hide under a rock somewhere until I'm done brooding. If they're a good friend of yours they'll understand you weren't telling them you think they're awful - just asking them to remember not to compromise your kids' immune systems. Good luck!

Sarahlynn said...

Kristi, I'm very happy to hear that your precautions are working! That's great. And I appreciate people who are so conscientious.

HC, I'd be hiding under a rock, too. That's why I'm leaning toward dinner, I think. It's a completely normal thing, not an apology or obvious olive branch, just a "let's get together!"

After a few more days of reflection, I'm still glad I said something.

Redhead Editor said...

I am often amazed at people's ignorance and lack of caring. Although not common, HSV-1 doesn't always stay above the waste and HSV-2 doesn't always stay below the waste. So it's up to patient education to keep your HSV (1 or 2) to yourself. Well within your right to mention this to your friend and educate. I tell my audience to assume that everyone (i.e. roommates) has herpes and, therefore, don't share anything like glasses, cups, utensils etc because you can transmit the virus without having an outbreak. That's a pisser!

Redhead Editor said...

Oooops, you knew I meant waist instead of waste!