This could be good news for a lot of people.
They discovered that a mysterious gene carried by the herpes simplex-1 virus — the one that causes cold sores — allows the virus to lay low in the nerves it infects.
It may be possible to "wake up" the virus and then kill it with standard antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, said Jennifer Lin Umbach of Duke University in North Carolina, who worked on the study released Wednesday.
This could treat more than cold sores.
Herpes simplex 1 or HSV-1 causes cold sores, HSV-2 causes genital herpes, while varicella causes chicken pox and returns in middle or old age as herpes zoster to cause shingles.
The potential market is large. An estimated one in five Americans have genital herpes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 100 million have the HSV-1 virus that causes cold sores.
The CDC estimates there are a million cases of shingles every year in the United States alone.