Why Don't All People with Genital Herpes Have Symptoms?

It is vital to understand that 80% of people with an infection have no symptoms they recognize.

The fact is most people have an immune response that holds the disease at bay—in terms of causing symptoms, that is. They are still infected and still able to transmit the disease, but the symptoms either do not occur or are so subtle that they go unnoticed or undiagnosed. Herpes can cause such minor complaints that they are ignored.

Herpes can appear as little more than an irritation or tiny erosion. A lesion tucked away in the genital region can be so small that it cannot be seen without doing some major stretching before trying or using a magnifying lens. Or the sore is in a place that is completely inaccessible to viewing (e.g., the anus, the groin, the vagina, or hidden within a small skin fold). Also, the symptoms may disappear so quickly that they are dismissed, or never seen in time by a doctor, or a doctor does not recognize how minor herpes can be even when seen in time. This is true of oral and genital herpes.

Nevertheless, the people who have what we call asymptomatic herpes can still transmit the disease. They can do this because they can still “shed” the virus from the skin even without having a sore or a symptom that they recognize as herpes. Asymptomatic shedding occurs from the mouth in those with oral herpes, from the anal and genital region in those with genital herpes, and even from tears in people who have had herpes of the eye.

This information is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.  

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