Why does genital herpes recur?

Almost immediately after the herpes simplex virus (HSV) infects your body and before symptoms appear, the virus travels to a sensory nerve root at the base of the spinal column called the sacral ganglion. It remains there in a latent or dormant stage indefinitely.

In some people the virus reactivates and travels back to the skin, where it multiplies until it erupts at the surface in the form of a sore. An itching, tingling or burning sensation in the genital area or buttocks often signals an upcoming episode. These warning symptoms are called the prodrome.

The trigger for these recurrences is not known. Stress, menstruation, infections and emotional distress may contribute. However, research has shown that episodes can recur when these factors are absent.

Keeping one's immune system strong is important. For instance, persons with weakened immune systems, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive individuals, have more frequent and severe outbreaks than HIV-negative persons. Experts also recommend getting emotional support, as the psychological impact of genital herpes often is more upsetting than the physical symptoms.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.