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 are also 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.
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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.”
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