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Question about how long HSV2 can be undetected

After having anal itching that felt really extreme to me, for about 8 days, I went to the doctor. She said there were small blisters and she did a swab and it came back positive for HSV2. It seems to be going away now--total symptom time was less than 2 weeks and the major symptom was itching.

Looking back over the years, I may have had a vaginal sore, always in the same place--but it always felt like it was part of a yeast infection to me. So I never questioned it. It was not painful, though thinking back, sometimes I did have an achy kind of odd pain. It was not severe though. If anything it was easily ignored. I treated for yeast, it was gone in a few days. So that's it for symptoms.

I have been married for 18 years and with him for 21 and I never cheated. I simply value my marriage too much. Up until today, I never had reason to think he cheated either, and to be honest I have a hard time imagining it or believing it possible. There are and never have been any signs, and if this hadn't happened, it never would have crossed my mind.

We have two children, 10 and 12. We have a great life. I can't imagine it getting better than this. I'm a pretty happy person. So this is Day knowing I have HSV2, and I'm thinking, maybe I've had this for 20+ years... before my husband I was quite sexually active and had about 20 partners. He had 2 prior to meeting me.

So my questions... could I have had this for 20+ years and just be finding out about it now because of an odd outbreak?

If my kids had it, would I know by now? They were both born vaginally.

Is there any other way of catching this? Do my symptoms sound like an initial outbreak?

Should my husband be tested, even if he has never had any symptoms?

What vitamins can I take to minimize HSV outbreaks?

Thanks for your help.


  • Yes, you could be finding out about it now. You can't really tell an initial outbreak from a later one, it's mostly a guessing game. If it's a big one it's probably an initial outbreak.

    Your kids almost certainly don't have it. It's up to you if you think they should be tested. It is possible they have it.

    Your husband should definitely be tested. Don't be sexually active until your symptoms have been gone for a week (unless he has it too).

    Lysine is the most commonly taken supplement for herpes
  • To answer your first question, yes, it's absolutely possible. I tested positive for HSV1 and HSV2 about a year after my divorce. I suspected nothing but had a new partner so I spontaneously asked for an STI panel when I went in for a Pap smear.

    In hindsight, I totally attributed my mild symptoms to yeast infections, and never had a visible sore that I knew of until last fall. I had no initial outbreak. What you describe sounds like a recurring outbreak, but there's really no way to know unless you had a swab test come back positive and a blood test taken at the same time come back negative. It's also possible to not have an outbreak for years and then have one unexpectedly. Maddening, isn't it?

    I was married to my ex for 15 years and chose to tell him and he got tested. Surprisingly, he tested negative for both. (I had five partners prior to marriage, he had one.) The new guy I was seeing also later tested negative, so now I know I picked it up 18-25 years earlier before getting married and had no idea all that time.

    Transmission simply isn't a given. And when it does happen, nearly 90% of those with HSV2 have no idea we have it because there are no symptoms, or the symptoms are mild enough we attribute them to other things.

    Whether or not your husband should be tested is up to him. There's not a strong reason to test, IMHO, unless he's just curious or he wants to use condoms or antivirals if he happens to be negative.

    No vitamins have been proven clinically to reduce outbreaks (that I know I of), but anything that supports the immune system can't hurt. I'm a huge fan of vitamin c, but I already take it for other benefits unrelated for herpes.

    Hopefully someone more knowledgeable can answer your question about childbirth (I don't have kids).
  • p.s. Welcome!
  • Hi Jeff,

    If my major symptom is itching, and no pain, then I'm guessing if the initial outbreak were vaginal I would have assumed it was a bad yeast infection. I've had them ever since I was on antibiotics for a month in my early 20's for acne. That was my first "bad" yeast infection, and at the time, it seemed a normal result of a month of antibiotics (it still does). I got them pretty regularly after that, and sometimes they could be triggered by my period. I became allergic to all yeast infection meds, and so I use coconut oil, daily probiotics, and when needed, topical probiotics. This regimen usually clears my symptoms totally in 24-36 hours, which doesn't sound like HSV to me, but it sounds like there is a large range of variety of symptoms, from zero to severe. When I say there was no pain, I really mean it... which is why when she did the swab I wasn't at all worried it would be HSV (that plus the 20 year monogamy thing). As far as anal symptoms go, this may be TMI but the last time I had anal sex was 25 years ago, when I was 19. So this pretty much came out of nowhere this week for the first time. I also haven't had skin to skin pelvic contact with my husband (or obviously anyone else) this month, so there is no chance of new exposure right now. If initial outbreak happens after 2-20 days, then this isn't the initial outbreak. Is that always the case? 2-20 days? Also, i think I know the answer to this, but is there any other way to catch HSV2 other than direct sexual contact? If there isn't, and my husband comes back negative, then that really means I have been carrying this for 20+ years without transmitting it. Though we wouldn't know unless he was tested. He likely will want to be, just to know.

    HikingGirl, your story is so interesting to me, and similar to mine. Thank you so much. One question--what did you mean about swab test come back positive and blood test come back negative? When that happens, does it indicate it is the initial outbreak? If I have had this for many years, does it mean my numbers would be very high, or does it not work like that exactly? Thanks so much
  • edited August 2017
    Yes, never recognizing an HSV2 infection is the most common scenario for people with HSV2.

    Autopsies in the U.S. suggest 40% of people contract HSV2 during a lifetime but only 5% of those people had recognized infections during life. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/795486

    Data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows how HSV2 infection rates climb with age (to anywhere from 15% to 79% depending on race/gender/marital status, up to age 49, the upper age limit in the study) yet recognized infections remain in a range of around 3-8%. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3020161/figure/F1/

    The CDC states that "most individuals infected with HSV are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for another skin condition." https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm

    Terri Warren, a clinician who specializes in herpes, has stated in the Herpes Handbook that 80-90% of people do not experience recognizable primary outbreak symptoms upon contracting HSV2. She also mentions cases of people who have a noticeable outbreak decades after contracting HSV2 (see bottom of page 5). https://www.westoverheights.com/herpes/the-updated-herpes-handbook/

    I discovered I was HSV2+ through blood testing. It's very likely I'd had it for decades by then because my previous relationship was 16 years long, though it's possible I contracted it at some point during that relationship. There was a time when I had what I believed to be frequent yeast infections and that could have been an HSV symptom I missed.

  • The swab test can give an immediate confirmation of an infection because you're swabbing the lesion. A blood test doesn't measure the virus, only antibodies produced by your own body in response to the virus. It can take up to 16 weeks for someone's body to develop enough antibodies to be detected on a blood test.

    So if a swab is positive and a blood test is nagative, it's a recent infection. If both are positive, there's no way to nail down when the infection occurred. The index values are either positive, negative or unclear. A higher value does not indicate a longer infection, although some doctors tell people that. My HSV1 value was in the 40s (statistically it's likely I picked this up in my youth), but my HSV2 value (a good 20 years after infection mind you) was only 3.27.

    Hope that helps.
  • Oh, and FWIW, I swear my monthly cycle can be a trigger for both HSV outbreaks and yeast infections.
  • I just received the results today that I tested positive for HSV2. I can tell you honestly that I have had this virus in my system for over 30 years. I am male and have been married for 37 years. My wife has never experienced any symptoms but I had an initial outbreak roughly a year ago and brushed it off as some kind of annoying rash. After a few incidents like it (maybe 3-4 in a year or 18 months) I started researching the herpes virus which led me to be tested. The doctor said there is no reason for my wife to be tested since I have been living with this for 30+ years and she is my only partner and I hers. The doctor said to continue your sex life as you have for your entire marriage and if you experience an outbreak come in and we'll give you anti-viral meds.
    I can tell you that I have experienced a roller coaster of emotions this past week and my wife and I have just breathed a huge sigh of relief that it's not as big a deal as we(I) first thought. We both had sexual experience before marriage and we're not going to play the "blame" game. We're deeply in love and committed to one another. Hope this helps.
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