What is Recurrent Herpes?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2019
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Recurrent herpes refers to subsequent infections of herpes simplex virus (HSV) I and II, after an initial or primary outbreak of the virus. HSV I and II continue to live in the body and, especially during the early years after contraction, the symptoms of herpes will appear again, pretty regularly. Recurrent herpes usually isn’t as dramatic as the primary virus display, but it’s still uncomfortable, contagious, and challenging to endure. To a degree, certain medications may help reduce recurrence rates and might be advised for those who have frequent outbreaks.

The rash associated with HSV II usually appears on or around the genitals. HSV I can create genital rash or cold sores. When HSV I isn’t expressed as cold sores, recurrent herpes incidence may be lower than when a person has HSV II. These two viruses are often misidentified as being restricted to a single area, but either can produce cold sores or genital rash, and where they appear depends on where a person initially contracted them.


A primary herpes infection presents with blister-like sores or a single coldsore, and people often have flu symptoms. They may feel run down, have a fever, be achy, or have swollen glands. This first expression of the virus usually takes about two to four weeks to run its course, and antiviral drugs can shorten healing time. Thereafter, recurrent herpes occurs, and number of rashes per year is variable, though many people have four or five the first year after a primary showing of the virus.

The expression of recurrent herpes can vary. Flu symptoms are usually absent. The only symptoms might be rash or cold sore and occasionally headache. It’s often very easy to identify skin irritation because it can occur in prominent areas. Other people may not always know they’re in the middle of recurrent herpes. Especially for genital herpes, the rash can be located in areas that are hard to see like inside the vagina or near the anus. Any itching or irritations in areas that can’t be easily seen should be considered a potential reinfection.

Treatment with certain antiviral drugs may reduce length of time of subsequent infections. In the early years of HSV II, doctors might recommend taking antivirals at all times to reduce number of outbreaks. As time passes, most people note a decline in number of times the virus is active. People are most at risk for further outbreaks when they’re under physical or mental stress, but it’s not unusual for people to go for years without developing a rash or a cold sore.

There’s recent evidence that people who are outbreak-free from recurrent herpes aren’t necessarily non-contagious. A few people can pass HSV I and II when they have no symptoms. Some doctors advise using antiviral medications to reduce this risk and they may also recommend that barrier methods of birth control be used at all times to protect uninfected partners.



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