Anonymous on September 16, 2011

Is it possible to catch HIV through a healing cold sore (oral herpes)?

The other day I had oral sex with a girl (I went down on her). I had a healing cold sore that had formed a scab and wasn’t bleeding. She wasn’t bleeding, either, but now I’m concerned that I’ve put myself at risk for HIV/AIDS. Is it possible to get HIV through a healing cold sore?

answered by Terri Warren, MS, RN, ANP on September 16, 2011

Thanks for your smart question about the risk of contracting HIV through unprotected oral sex. 

The short answer is yes. It’s possible to get HIV through a healing cold sore, and someone with either oral or genital herpes has a higher risk of acquiring HIV. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that people with herpes are two to three times more likely to get HIV if exposed to the virus.

Why? Because HIV can enter the body through breaks in the skin caused by this case, your cold sore. Also, the immune cells that respond to a herpes outbreak are the very cells that HIV targets for infection. 

But...this is only true if you were sexually active with someone who is HIV positive. 

Do you know if your partner is is HIV positive? If she isn't, then the situation you describe doesn’t put you at risk for HIV. And if you don’t know whether your partner has HIV or some other infection, I would encourage you (and her) to get tested for common STDs, including HIV. 

For more information about herpes and HIV, as well as how to practice safer sex, you might want to browse our Expert Guides to STDs

Wishing you good luck and good health.

Related info:

Terri Warren, MS, RN, ANP

Warren is a Nurse Practitioner and owner of Westover Heights Clinic in Oregon. She is a renown expert and author in the field of genital herpes research, diagnosis and treatment. Warren was educated at Oregon Health and Sciences University and the University of Portland.

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