ZocdocAnswersHow long can herpes stay in your body without having an outbreak?

Question

How long can herpes stay in your body without having an outbreak?

I've been married for 16 1/2 years, no infidelity for the entire time, but had previous partners. Is it possible to have caught herpes that long ago, but never have an outbreak till right now?

Answer

Herpes, as you know, is a common virus which can cause outbreaks of painful blisters. There are actually two different varieties of the herpes virus, one which more commonly causes genital sores and one which more commonly causes mouth sores ("cold sores"). Once a person is infected with the herpes virus, the virus is never completely eliminated from the body. Rather, it lies dormant but can reactivate at any time, usually in response to some illness or other form of physical stress, causing a new crop of sores to appear. Since herpes is very common, it certainly is possible that you were infected many years ago, although typically one would remember this infection, as it is usually associated with a crop of painful blisters. Rarely, however, the initial infection could be so mild that a person might not even notice it. It would also be unusual, although not impossible, to have been infected 16 years ago and to have never had a recurrent outbreak in all this time. In summary, it is not possible to answer your question definitively, but you could talk to your primary care doctor about the issue if you have additional concerns. Sometimes, it is possible to perform blood tests looking for antibodies to the herpes virus, for example, which would provide evidence of a prior infection.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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