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When is herpes contagious?

Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine
Herpes is always potentially contagious, whether or not you see blisters. Although herpes is thought to be most contagious immediately before, during, and after blisters are present, the lack of blisters in between outbreaks does not equal not contagious.
The herpes virus is most contagious during and just before a person has an outbreak. Herpes outbreaks often appear as a rash, bumps, or one or more sores around the genitals or the mouth, which can progress to blisters. Initial outbreaks are sometimes associated with fevers and flu-like symptoms. If you see anything appearing like that on yourself or a partner, avoid sexual contact, including kissing if the symptoms are on the face.

Even if there are no visible lesions, herpes can be spread through a process known as shedding. During shedding, the herpes virus is active on the skin, usually where the person has had symptoms before. As a result, any type of genital, oral, or skin-to-skin contact with the virus may transmit it. There is no way to know when another person is shedding, but safer sex practices significantly minimize the risk of contracting herpes.

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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.