What is Asymptomatic Shedding?

Millions of Americans suffer from the pain and embarrassment of herpes lesions. Most of those affected by herpes first got the virus through asymptomatic shedding. What is asymptomatic shedding and is there any way to prevent it? Find the answer to these questions and more in the following paragraphs.

The Herpes Simplex Viruses

Two viruses which are particularly good at asymptomatic shedding are the herpes simplex viruses, type 1 and type 2 (HSV1 and HSV2). HSV1 most commonly causes cold sores while HSV2 causes genital herpes. Both viruses are capable of causing lesions in either location, however.

Asymptomatic Shedding: Defined

Asymptomatic shedding refers to ability of some viruses to be present and transmissible without causing symptoms. The symptoms of many viral infections fever, stuffy nose, sore throat  are the result of the immune system, not the virus itself. When the immune system detects a foreign invader, it launches an attack to destroy and rid the body of it. During asymptomatic shedding, for some reason the immune system hasn't detected the virus and the body experiences no symptoms.

Herpes and Asymptomatic Shedding

It's not entirely clear why the herpes simplex viruses are so good at shedding asymptomatically. It most likely has something to do with the fact that herpes viruses have the ability to go latent in nerve fibers, an area the immune system doesn't keep watch over. When someone first encounters a herpes simplex virus, they experience an illness much like the usual virus infection; fever, muscle aches, headache, etc. This is because the immune system has caught wind of the infection and is trying to remove it from the body.

Herpes viruses can then somehow retreat into nerve fibers (most often in the face, genitalia, or hands) and become dormant. They lie in this latent state until the immune system is weakened, at which point they re-emerge by traveling down nerve fibers toward the periphery. If the immune system doesn't detect the active virus, the virus is capable of being transmitted by touching an infected area. It can then be spread to other people, surfaces, and even to other locations on the infected individual.

Can Asymptomatic Shedding Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, the answer to that is a big, fat no. Until we better understand the strange mechanisms of the herpes simplex viruses, we really have no hope of preventing asymptomatic shedding. And while we cannot control how the virus sheds, we can control is transmission success.

If you or someone you come into physical contact with is experiencing an outbreak, be sure to wash your hands periodically. If you touch your own herpes lesion, wash your hands before doing anything else to prevent spreading it to other places on your own body. Although some people claim to have gotten herpes from a towel, transmission of viruses via linens is fairly unlikely since herpes viruses cannot survive long outside of a human host. If you have herpes, keep those you love free from herpes infection by carefully monitoring your outbreaks and limiting physical contact during them.

While asymptomatic shedding can't be helped, you can do your best to limit the chances of passing the virus along by washing hands often and limiting contact during outbreaks as well as the week immediately prior and following an outbreak.

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/genital-herpes/guide/herpes-silent-spread

http://www.medicinenet.com/herpes_simplex_infections_non-genital/article.htm#14whatother

Photo Credit: classicasleep*

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