How Long Does Herpes Lie Dormant? It Depends on These Six Things


If you’ve been diagnosed with genital herpes, you probably want to know all you can. And with HSV, knowledge is everything, as it’s just what will help you keep aggravating symptoms at bay. So how long does herpes lie dormant? Maybe you’re worried you’ve contracted herpes, worried about passing it on, or you are just wondering what to expect between outbreaks. Here is an overview of herpes and its dormancy.

How Long Does Herpes Lie Dormant?

How Long does herpes lie dormant

What is Dormancy?

Herpes alternates between a latent stage of hiding in the nerve ganglia, and then coming out and “activating”, otherwise known as an outbreak. (How long do herpes outbreaks last?)

Dormancy Before The First Outbreak

If you’ve contracted the virus but not yet experienced a herpes outbreak, truthfully there’s no 100% accurate way to determine when one will occur. There are too many factors, but hopefully we can give you an idea of what they are. (In the meantime, you can order a confidential STD test online.)

Firstly, everyone’s body is different, as is their immune system. Even more, some strains of HSV are more forceful than others. If a person has a strong immune system, then it is very possible for an outbreak to occur years after contracting the virus.

We can tell you what is considered typical, and that is that people do often have their first outbreak two weeks after contracting it. But this just isn’t reliable, because it’s equally accepted that people can often have outbreaks after two years. That’s why so many people will have trouble pinpointing when they got herpes at all. There are many statistics and possibilities:

  • People who already had HSV-1 (which causes cold sores) when they contract HSV-2 may be less likely to show symptoms right away.
  • Many people are asymptomatic carriers, and it seems to be true more often with men, having no symptoms whatsoever but passing it on for decades.
  • Particularly for women, the first outbreak is usually the most severe and recurrences may be more common.
  • HSV-1 can be passed from the mouth to the genitals, and the outbreaks may be milder.
  • Some strains of the virus are less persistent than others.
  • 88% of people who have it don’t realize they do, which says a lot.

So it depends on the person, their immune system and lifestyle, and the strain of the virus they have. Stress is usually a precursor to an outbreak. You can also tell if one is creeping up by what are called prodromal symptoms.

Dormancy Between Outbreaks

If you have already experienced an initial herpes outbreak, then you might wonder how often you should expect to get them in the future. There is no exact science for this either, but the average is two-four HSV-2 outbreaks a year. According to the Mayo Clinic, a herpes patient can go outbreak-free for 40 years after their first one before having another! There are always exceptions.

  • Women can have outbreak recurrences on their cervix without knowing it. (How to recognize an internal herpes outbreak).
  • A commonly cited anecdotal scenario is that herpes outbreaks are more frequent within the first 4-5 years of having the virus, taper off, and then stop occurring altogether.
  • Some women experience outbreaks in conjunction with their menstrual cycles, which for them would be a trigger.

Possible Triggers

Keeping outbreaks at bay will depend on whether or not triggers exist. There are some generally accepted triggers in the diet and lifestyle:

  • Stress – As mentioned above, there’s a strong correlation between stress and herpes outbreaks. It’s the same with oral and genital herpes, in which stress brings a “visitor”. Stress can be emotional or physical (such as surgery).
  • Sex – Some people with herpes state that the friction of intercourse causes genital irritation, and can therefore trigger outbreaks. If you determine that this is a trigger for you, then you need to ensure there is adequate lubrication during sex, which can minimize irritation, and listen to your body and stop when you feel it needs to. (All you wanted to know about sex with herpes.)
  • Weakened immune system – People with lower-than-optimal immune systems, especially those with HIV, will have more frequent outbreaks.
  • Hormones – Many women state that the hormone fluctuations before, during and after their periods often trigger outbreaks.
  • Diet High in Arginine – Foods like almonds and chocolate can bring about herpes outbreaks. Be sure to read up here about foods for preventing herpes outbreaks.

How to Keep Herpes Dormant

One person with genital herpes may work at a high-stress job and be in a stressful relationship, and be more prone to outbreak recurrences. Another may have a more stress-free lifestyle that potentially keeps the virus dormant for years or even decades. We can’t all be stress-free all the time, and that’s just life. But you obviously want to minimize the frequency in which you experience outbreaks, and stress (!), so you should do what you can to manage stress in a healthy way. Getting out for a walk, meditating, practicing yoga or mindfulness, taking time out to pamper yourself, or writing in a diary are examples of ways to cope with and manage stress. A healthy diet also helps us emotionally, and a lysine-rich diet can actually help physically suppress the herpes virus. All these factors will contribute to less frequent flare-ups.

Be sure to also take a look at our informational list of many alternative and natural remedies for herpes outbreaks.

So how long does herpes lie dormant? Whether before the first outbreak or between outbreaks, it can be a difficult question to answer. However, some of the data above may provide optimism. For many, the outbreaks get fewer and farther between. And of course, it’s completely possible to have a fulfilling love life with herpes as well. Check out our comprehensive list of facts about herpes.