It’s a problem that plagues an estimated 3.7 billion people worldwide, and now scientists have uncovered the history of cold sores – or should we say ‘kissing’.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have sequenced the ancient genomes of herpes – a virus that commonly causes cold sores.
Their findings suggest that the strain of the virus behind facial herpes as we know it originated around 5,000 years ago, around the time of the emergence of the “sexual-romantic kiss.”
Dr Christiana Scheib, senior author of the study, said: ‘Every primate species has a herpes strain, so we think it’s been with us since our species left Africa.
“However, something happened five thousand years ago that allowed one strain of herpes to outcompete all others, and perhaps the increased transmission may be related to kissing.”
It’s a problem that plagues an estimated 3.7 billion people worldwide, and now scientists have uncovered the history of cold sores — or should we say “kissing”?
In the study, the team isolated viral DNA from the teeth of four people. One specimen (pictured) is from a young adult male from Holland and dated 1672.
Forget brushing your teeth… KISSING is good too, says the dentist
According to an orthodontist, kissing can help keep your teeth healthy and prevent bad breath.
However, it cannot be done quickly.
Dr. Khaled Kasem of the Impress international dental chain recommends sniffing for four minutes a day.
“The main benefit of kissing is that it makes you salivate more,” he said.
“Saliva is important because it helps you chew, taste, swallow, fights germs in your mouth, and prevents bad breath—which is definitely ideal when it comes to kissing.”
Saliva also helps neutralize acids on your teeth, reducing the risk of tooth decay.
The most common strain of the virus today is called HSV-1 and is usually transmitted through oral contact, such as kissing.
“Cold sores are caused by a virus called herpes simplex,” the NHS explains on its website.
“Once you have the virus, it stays on your skin for the rest of your life. Sometimes you get a cold.”
“Most people get the virus when they’re young after close skin-to-skin contact, such as kissing, with someone who has a cold.”
Although the herpes virus originated millions of years ago, researchers have begun to understand when the HSV-1 strain emerged.
“The world has seen COVID-19 mutate at a rapid rate over weeks and months. A virus like herpes evolves over much longer periods of time,” said Dr. Charlotte Holdcroft, senior author of the study.
“Herpes of the face hides in its host for life and is transmitted only through oral contact, so mutations occur slowly over centuries and thousands of years.
“To understand how such DNA viruses evolve, we need to do in-depth research.
“Until now, genetic data for herpes only go back to 1925.”
In the study, the team isolated viral DNA from the teeth of four people.
The oldest specimen dates back to about 1,500 years ago and is from an adult male excavated in the Ural Mountains of Russia.
Another dates from the 6th or 7th century AD and comes from a woman from an early Anglo-Saxon cemetery near Cambridge.
One specimen dates to the late 14th century and is from a young adult male buried in the grounds of the Charity Hospital in Cambridge.
The third dates from the late 14th century and is from a young adult male buried in the grounds of the Charity Hospital in Cambridge.
Finally, one sample comes from a young adult male from Holland and dates to 1672.
After extracting the DNA of the virus, the researchers compared their results with herpes samples from the 20th century.
This allowed them to analyze the differences, estimate mutation rates, and thereby create a timeline of the virus’s evolution.
Research suggests that HSV-1 first appeared around 5,000 years ago.
According to the researchers, the earliest records of kissing are found in a Bronze Age manuscript from Southern China.
They suggest that this tradition may have then spread westward after humans migrated from Eurasia to Europe.
“The main mode of transmission of HSV-1 is vertical, from parent to child,” the team wrote in their study published in the journal Science Advances.
“However, as population density increased during the Bronze Age, the addition of side-crossing, possibly associated with the introduction of new cultural practices such as sexual-romantic kissing, may have contributed to the shift in dominant lineages. be dispersed until this day.”
HSV-1 usually causes cold sores for most people, and when combined with other illnesses such as sepsis, it can be fatal.
For example, in the UK in 2018, two women died of HSV-1 infection after caesarean section.
The team now hopes to track HSV-1 more closely over time.
“Neanderthal herpes is my next mountain to climb,” added Dr. Scheib.
What is herpes?
However, only about one-third experience symptoms.
About half of young people in the United States are infected with a virus that causes cold sores around the mouth.
One in eight has a virus behind genital herpes.
Cold sores on the lips are usually spread by kissing someone who has a cold.
They start as small red spots that blister before bursting, leaving a raw scab.
Cold sores on the face are usually caused by the herpes virus type 1.
Type 2 mainly affects the genitals.
It is rare for canker sores to spread from where they first appeared.
They are also only transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact, not by sharing items such as towels or knives.
Oral sex is a common way cold sores are transferred from one person’s mouth to another person’s genitals or vice versa.
After infection, patients may initially experience fever and flu-like symptoms.
Cold sores can reoccur if stress, illness, alcohol, or too much sun exposure occur.
This is because the virus stays in the nerve endings near the spinal cord.
Many people experience itching, burning, or pain before a cold sore reappears.
If someone suffers from frequent outbreaks, antiviral drugs may be prescribed.
Keeping the wounds moist will stop them from becoming sore and painful.
Source: Herpes Virus Association