Causes Of Herpes Infections and Outbreaks

What causes an herpes infection?

Herpes is a very common virus and is quite easy to get and pass on to others through close contact. It is probably easy for some people to make the naive assumption that a person who has herpes was probably careless about who they were romantically involved with, and caught the virus by recklessly kissing or being sexually active with someone that clearly had a herpes infection. This is far from the truth! Although you can get a herpes simplex virus from contact with a herpes sore, most people actually get herpes simplex from an infected person who does not currently have any sores, which is called “asymptomatic viral shedding”. Additionally, the majority of people actually become infected with HSV-1  (oral herpes)  as an infant or child! Pregnant women with genital herpes can also pass on herpes during childbirth, and it is something that should be discussed with their doctor during their pregnancy.

  • Causes of herpes simplex type 1: If you have ever had a cold sore or fever blister, you probably have herpes because most cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1 or “oral herpes”). As said before, this type of herpes is most often acquired early in life, either from an infected adult or other child, through direct skin contact, kissing or even just sharing objects (such as forks, spoons, toothbrushes, lipstick etc) that have come in contact with an infected person. A person with HSV-1 generally has signs and symptoms around the lips and mouth, although it can be experienced in the mouth, elsewhere on the face or anywhere (including around the genitals and rectum) else on the body.
  • Causes of herpes simplex type 2: A person usually gets the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2 or “genital herpes” ) through sexual contact. Signs and symptoms, although they can be experienced anywhere on the body (including around the lips and mouth), typically are found below the waist, around the genitals and rectum. Although it is possible for someone with a cold sore caused by HSV-1 that performs oral sex to pass on HSV-1, resulting in herpes sores on or around the genitals, generally herpes sores in the genital and rectal area are caused by HSV-2. Although anyone can get HSV-2, some risk factors that increase the chances of acquiring it are being female, having sex for the first time at a young age, having had numerous sex partners, already having another sexually transmitted disease and/or a weakened immune system due to poor health, drugs, medicine or disease.

In summary, HSV type-1 (“oral herpes”) and HSV type-2 ( “genital herpes”)  are found and passed on via contact with their respective areas but BOTH can result in outbreaks anywhere on the body, be confused with one another AND be passed on even though there are no visible herpes sores at all.

Once a person has become infected with either herpes virus type it never leaves the body. After the first outbreak, the virus moves from the skin cells to nerve cells, where it remains forever. Most of the time the virus is in a “dormant” (sleeping) state, with no signs or symptoms whatsoever. Some people may never have any signs or symptoms at all, and perhaps do not even realize that they are infected. Others live with the recurring outbreaks, and the associated signs and symptoms, frequently throughout their lives.


What causes an outbreak?

As said before, once a person is infected with either type of herpes virus, it stays in their body for the rest of their lives. How often, and how extreme, they experience a herpes outbreak varies from person to person. But there are some typical causes that tend to bring the virus out of it’s dormant state and result in an outbreak:

  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Illness
  • Fatigue
  • Suppression of the immune system, due to AIDS, medications or steroids or poor health
  • Trauma to the affected area, including sexual activity
  • Menstruation
  • Fever
  • Sun exposure
  • Surgery

Causes | Signs & SymptomsTreatment