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What is Chronic Herpes?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Chronic herpes generally refers to infected people who have six or more outbreaks of herpes in a year’s time. Frequent outbreaks are a medical concern because herpes simplex virus does create a risk for other illnesses, such as the development of viral meningitis, and a high frequency of outbreaks can make it difficult for people to pursue sexual relations. Most people have fewer infections per year and these become less frequent the longer the person has the condition. Some people are particularly prone to herpes outbreaks, especially those with compromised immune systems. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully treat this condition.

When a person has active symptoms of herpes, the condition is usually considered acute — each outbreak is called an acute phase of herpes. Chronic herpes cannot be diagnosed until the outbreak number exceeds six acute phases within a year. In the first year that a person contracts herpes, it’s possible to have six or more outbreaks, without being considered chronic, provided outbreaks are reduced in the second year. Diagnosis is made easier if outbreaks continue to be frequent in the second year or several years after contraction of the illness.

Most people will not have chronic forms of herpes, but in the first year many doctors recommend that people take antiviral medications like acyclovir or famciclovir. Not only can these help reduce the discomfort of an initial infection, but they can also suppress additional infections. This doesn’t mean that people can expect to have no infections, but they often have fewer infections if they use an antiviral medication. These medications are usually only used for six months to a year. In cases where patients appear to have chronic herpes, these medications are used for a longer time period.

In addition to reducing the numerous infections that may accompany herpes, antiviral medications may help reduce risk for developing illnesses that can be very dangerous. In particular, it’s essential to decrease the possible chance of developing conditions like meningitis, which is difficult to treat and can cause swelling of the brain. Since those prone to frequent herpes outbreaks may have compromised immune systems, it’s also important to reduce incidence of outbreaks so that other complications like infection don’t occur.

Indication for how long a patient should remain on antiviral medications really depends on the individual. Some people remain on antivirals for a year or longer. If a patient continues to have an ongoing autoimmune or immunosuppressed state, he or she might require medical treatment for herpes for longer. Some people with chronic herpes are able to discontinue medication after a few years and have significant reduction in the amount of outbreaks. Again, it’s important to state that most people do not have chronic herpes, but if they experience frequent outbreaks, they should see their physician for medical advice.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Mar 30, 2014

Chronic herpes does not only refer to genital herpes (herpes type two). It's also possible to have chronic herpes type one, where someone experiences frequent cold sores on the lips.

By candyquilt — On Mar 29, 2014

@donasmrs-- It's true that visible symptoms have nothing to do with the likelihood of passing the infection to others. It's possible to pass it to others even when there are zero symptoms.

I think that chronic herpes is emotionally draining for those suffering from it more than anything else. I think someone who has six or more outbreaks per year will be more concerned about regaining health and strengthening the immune system rather than pursuing sexual relations.

Chronic herpes symptoms are usually very painful and lead to numerous other issues like fatigue, fever, problems while urinating, physical discomfort and even headaches. So the issue is about pushing the virus back into dormancy so that relief from these symptoms can occur. This usually requires a combination of anti-viral medications, immune system strengthening supplements, a healthy lifestyle with healthy diet and exercise, and staying as far away from stress as possible. Unfortunately, thinking about chronic herpes actually makes herpes worse because stress weakens the immune system.

By donasmrs — On Mar 29, 2014

Those with chronic herpes are often depressed because they cannot engage in sexual relations while they are experiencing an outbreak. But I saw a recent study which suggests that individuals with herpes are infectious even when they are not experiencing an outbreak.

Those with mild herpes who only experience one breakout per year or less feel that they can have sexual relations most of the year without infecting anyone. But this is probably not true. So I think that those with chronic herpes need not be depressed about their condition, because everyone with herpes has this issue, not only those with chronic herpes.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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