Herpes viral shedding means that the herpes virus — both HSV1 and HSV2 — can be present on the surface of the skin even when no visible signs or symptoms of a herpes outbreak are present. (Genital HSV-1 sheds less than genital HSV-2; download the “Disclosure cheat sheet” from the herpes resources page for specifics on the percent of days that virus is shedding depending on the strain and location.) Studies have shown that within the first few months of initial herpes exposure, the rate of viral shedding is much higher than after the body has a chance to build up a tolerance to the herpes virus through antibodies in the bloodstream. An average of six months after the first herpes outbreak, viral shedding is said to occur around 5-20% of the time, depending on what study you read. Shedding virus doesn’t necessarily mean that there is enough virus to be passed to a partner. Mayo Clinic experts have determined that around 70 percent of all cases of genital herpes were acquired when an infected partner showed no physical signs or symptoms, but when HSV was actively shedding. Visible herpes outbreaks are the result of herpes virus shedding to the point that adds up to the outbreak.

Where does viral shedding happen? If you’ve had a herpes outbreak, then it’s safe to assume that herpes viral shedding happens right around that general location. That’s because how the virus comes to the surface of your skin from the base of your spine is through your nerves. Once there is a pathway that has been paved for the virus after a few outbreaks, the virus tends to take that path of least resistance (but not always) whether it’s for viral shedding purposes or full-fledged herpes outbreaks. If you haven’t had an active herpes outbreak and you found out that you have HSV-1 or HSV-2 through a herpes blood test, then there’s no telling where the virus might be shedding from. Best thing to do when disclosing to a potential partner is tell them you are a carrier of HSV, but haven’t had an actual herpes outbreak.

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