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What is Herpes Shedding?

By Mandi R. Hall
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Herpes shedding occurs when an infected person has tiny openings in the skin through which the virus may be spread. The Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is generally known as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Therefore, sexual contact is one of the ways the virus may be spread. People become infected with the herpes virus when subjected to the areas of broken skin exposing the virus. Genital herpes and oral herpes, as well as less common types of herpes, may be contracted through herpes shedding.

Approximately 90 percent of people infected with herpes don’t know they have the virus. Asymptomatic herpes shedding occurs when an unknowingly infected person’s skin is broken, thus shedding the virus. When other symptoms aren’t present, he may use fewer precautions when partaking in sexual activities. In these cases, the person may transmit HSV to his partner. It is important to note that even when condoms or other barriers are used, the herpes infection can be spread.

Herpes shedding also occurs during an obvious breakout. The most obvious symptom of a breakout is the presence of herpes lesions. These small blisters are red or pink in color. They are typically found in clusters around the genitals and anus. A bad breakout may consist of a mass of lesions spread over the entire area. In contrast, a mild herpes infection may showcase just one or two lesions. The lesions are typically liquid-filled and scab over after a few days.

Unmistakable pain may occur during herpes shedding. Painful urination is a symptom that is often dismissed as a possible urinary tract infection. Furthermore, the herpes lesions or ulcers can be both painful and itchy, as can the skin surrounding them. The actually process of shedding likely doesn’t cause pain, however.

More rarely, headaches and stomachaches may occur during a breakout. If lesions are not present, these herpes symptoms may be confused with a flu or cold. Additionally, fatigue and overall aching may accompany a breakout.

HSV-1 and HSV-2 are also known as oral and genital herpes, respectively. Though they are the most commonly mentioned, they are not the only strains of the Herpesviridae virus that execute herpes shedding. Shingles, often known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus. This virus is also transmitted through herpes shedding. Chickenpox is another common herpes strain that is spread through shedding, though it may also be transmitted airborne or via bodily fluids.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Mar 31, 2013

@simrin-- Herpes viral shedding while there are no apparent outbreaks is called asymptomatic shedding. I think the percentage you gave for the risk of infecting others is too high. The risk is probably more around 2%.

By SteamLouis — On Mar 31, 2013

@turquoise-- Yes, genital herpes shedding can happen anytime, it's not necessary for there to be blisters. It's possible not to experience any symptoms when shedding occurs. As far as I know, the risk of spreading the virus during shedding can be anywhere from 1-10%.

This is why taking antivirals is so important when there is a herpes type 2 infection. It also helps to avoid sexual activity when there is an outbreak but antiviral medications also reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus during shedding.

By turquoise — On Mar 30, 2013

So herpes shedding can occur when there isn't an outbreak?Does this mean that I can spread herpes even when I don't have blisters?

My doctor said that I can only spread it if I have an outbreak. I'm so confused.

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