When Is Herpes Not Contagious? And When Does it Spread Most?

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So you or your partner have herpes, and you want to have a healthy love and sex life. Today, it’s very possible as long as you know your risks and the right precautions. When is herpes not contagious? And conversely, when is it most contagious? It’s a more complex answer than you might expect, but an encouraging one when you have the information.

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When Is Herpes Most Contagious?

Let’s start by talking about when herpes is contagious. It might sound obvious, but the first fact to know is this: Herpes is most contagious during an outbreak. That goes for genital herpes and cold sores from oral herpes.

For genital herpes, you should stop having sex at the first sign of any impending outbreak. Many people experience what they describe as an odd, tingling sensation at the start of an outbreak. If your doctor has prescribed you Valtrex, this is the best time to take it to stop the outbreak in its tracks.

You should generally wait two or three days after a herpes outbreak is gone to resume having sex.

Condoms don’t make it safe to have sex during an outbreak. Herpes spreads through skin-to-skin contact. While condoms are known to help reduce the transmission rate, they don’t cover the entire affected skin surface, and therefore herpes can still spread.

Viral Shedding

When you aren’t having a herpes outbreak, the virus is mostly dormant. For the most part, you can have sex without passing it to your partner. The issue is that sometimes even when you aren’t having an outbreak you will have periods of “asymptomatic viral shedding”. These are times when the virus is contagious that you won’t outwardly notice. That obviously makes things a little more tricky, so it’s important to manage your contagiousness in every way possible to reduce outbreaks and viral shedding periods. Here is a very detailed article about herpes viral shedding rates and risks.

When is Herpes Not Contagious? Reduce the Transmission Rate

There have been some very interesting studies done by Valtrex about the herpes transmission rate. By following certain precautions, couples who engaged in regular sex managed their rate of transmission down to only 1% transmission rate per year of regular sex.

There are three conditions for this low likelihood of transmission:

  1. Avoid sex during an outbreak;
  2. Use daily suppressive therapy, i.e. take Valtrex every day as prescribed by a doctor; and
  3. Use condoms.

In fact, the data for suppressive therapy without the use of condoms but with the other two conditions in place is still only 2%. We recommend you get the advice of your doctor and, if approved by them, follow all three methods if possible. Learn more about taking daily antivirals here.

Herpes and Your Diet

It can be useful to examine your diet for outbreak triggers. You can help your immune system resist outbreaks through nutrition.

For example, foods high in the amino acid arginine can exacerbate herpes symptoms by helping the virus replicate. On the other hand, foods high in lysine (which competes with arginine) may help fight them off.

Additionally, since stress lowers immunity in general, use common sense advice for that. Get plenty of antioxidants and stress-busting vitamins like Vitamin B. You can read about herpes and your diet in more detail here: Herpes and Diet: Foods to Avoid with Herpes and Foods to Help

Further Reading

If you’re looking around to learn when is herpes not contagious, then some of our in-depth articles about sex, dating, and herpes facts may be of interest to you: