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New NZ study exposes the experiences of those living with cold sores

A new survey has revealed that four in five (80%) cold sore sufferers in New Zealand admit that outbreaks of the common virus negatively impact how they feel about themselves. From feelings of self-consciousness (58%) to embarrassment (46%) and unattractiveness, (41%) cold sore sufferers are choosing to hide away from social situations and dates, in a bid to avoid feeling embarrassed.

The research, conducted by APOHEALTH Famciclovir Once, surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,019 New Zealanders, 18-years-old and above, to better understand the experiences of cold sore sufferers, while also unpacking the perceptions of cold sores held by those who’ve never had one.


While most sufferers admit to judging themselves for having a cold sore, this also leads to a fear of being judged by others (50%). This fear can result in sufferers unnecessarily shying away from physical contact, such as handshakes or hugs with others (32%) or feeling as though others were shying away from physical contact with them (17%).

For many, a visible cold sore also impedes on social plans, with more than half (57%) of respondents admitting to having changed work or social plans as the result of the virus. Among sufferers, the research indicated Gen Z were the most impacted, with over 80% changing plans or avoiding social situations altogether (60%) when faced with a cold sore.

Pharmacist Amelia Gardner, said:

“A cold sore is a small, sometimes painful blister that typically forms on or around the lips or inside the mouth. Caused by the herpes simplex virus, cold sores can recur periodically throughout a person’s life. Believe it or not, the cold sore virus is far more common than you might think.

“In fact, up to 80% of the population[1] carry the virus which can cause cold sores, so we shouldn’t really be so concerned with what other people think – because it’s highly likely the person we fear is judging us probably has the virus too! While the virus can be spread through saliva and skin-to-skin contact, basic hygiene practices and limiting intimate physical contact will help to limit the spread.”


The burden of a cold sore was also evident in sufferers’ working lives, with some going so far as to call in sick when a cold sore developed (14%), while a further one in 10 (13%) would instead opt to work from home and16% also admitted to turning their camera off if work meetings were taking place over video call. Again, Gen Z reported the greatest disturbances to their working lives, with as many as 1 in 4 (25%) calling in sick to work when a cold sore developed.

Gardner said:

“Avoiding situations – be that work or social – can be contagious, the more you do it, the more it can exacerbate feelings of self-consciousness. The best way to avoid the overwhelm is to understand the signs of a cold sore appearing and treat it quickly. An antiviral medication such as Famciclovir will help to reduce the severity and duration of an outbreak so you can keep feeling like your confident self.”


When it came to matters of treatment, almost a third of sufferers had attempted ‘home’ remedies to address their cold sore, including trying toothpaste (11%) or ice (13%).

Gardner added:

“It’s an old wives’ tale that treatments like ice, alcohol or even Vaseline will cure a cold sore. Instead, opting for an oral or topical medication from your local pharmacy can stop the virus from reproducing, enabling you to get on top of the outbreak.”

Despite the fear of judgement expressed by cold sore sufferers, non-sufferers were empathetic when asked about their perception of those who suffer cold sores. Many acknowledged that cold sores are not a reflection of who that person is (59%), rather that they look painful (52%) and are just something that happens when someone is run down (52%). Many Kiwis also don’t realise a cold sore is a result of a virus (21%) or that it is a condition that, while treatable, isn’t something that can be completely cured (22%).

“What this shows us is the need for greater education on what the cold sore virus is, how it spreads, and the best way to manage it should it be something you come into contact with and begin to develop. Having a cold sore is absolutely not the end of the world,” says Gardner.


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