How Often Does Herpes Simplex Come Back?

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that at least 45 million Americans are currently hosting one of the viruses responsible for genital herpes. The herpes simplex viruses are particularly adept at transmission since they can hide out and reappear over the course of a human lifetime.

The Initial Infection

When your body, namely your immune system, first encounters one of the herpes simplex viruses it mounts a response akin to other viral infections. A person may have fatigue, muscle aches, a fever, or headache. Some initial infections last as long as 20 days, while others are relatively mild and last only a few days.


Not all people infected with herpes will experience recurrences or symptom outbreaks after the initial infection. About 80% of those infected with HSV2 and 50% of those with HSV1 report having symptom recurrences. For those people, most experience about 4 outbreaks a year.

Outbreak Triggers

Some people can limit the amount of outbreaks they experience by identifying and avoiding those things which set them off. It is generally true that anything capable of compromising the immune system or causing local injury to outbreak areas is also capable of causing herpes to reoccur. The immune system is most often compromised by excessive stress, sleep deprivation, or poor nutrition. Other things that can cause outbreaks include ultraviolet light, excessive alcohol consumption, and the friction or skin damage caused by sexual intercourse.

Why Can't I Get Over a Herpes Simplex Viral Infection?

Unlike other common viruses such as influenza or rhinovirus, the herpes simplex viruses can very successfully elude the immune system. There are certain places in the body that the immune system, for some reason, doesn't keep an eye on; the nervous system is one of these places. Herpes viruses take advantage of this fact by hiding out in nerve ganglia (bundles of sensory nerves). When the immune system is weakened, as mentioned earlier, the virus can re-emerge and cause infection. It does this by traveling down nerve fibers until it reaches the skin. The skin provides the virus with a method of transmission, being spread through contact. The cold sores and genital herpes lesions that result from a herpes outbreak are actually the result of the immune system finally recognizing the virus as foreign and harmful. The virus then travels back up the nerves and settles in the ganglia, away from the immune system, until the time is right to emerge once again.

Preventing Herpes Outbreaks

While they might not be completely unavoidable, some herpes outbreaks can be prevented by keeping the immune system in tip-top shape. Getting plenty of sleep, eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding those things which cause emotional stress are all ways you can keep your immune system happy and herpes outbreaks at a minimum.


Photo Credit: vmctavish

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