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

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Diagnosed with genital herpes? With HSV, knowledge is everything. It’s possible to use it to help keep aggravating symptoms at bay. So how long does herpes lie dormant before a first outbreak, or in between outbreaks? It can vary. Here are details of the specific factors that affect outcomes.

How Long Does Herpes Lie Dormant?

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What is Dormancy?

Herpes alternates between a latent stage of hiding in the nerve ganglia, and then coming out and activating. The active stage is when the virus is contagious, and often includes an outbreak. But when its dormant, there are no symptoms or contagiousness.

(How long do herpes outbreaks last?)

How Long Before The First Outbreak?

If someone has contracted HSV but not yet experienced a herpes outbreak, truthfully there’s no 100% accurate way to determine when one will occur. An outbreak can occur within a week of exposure, or years later.

First, consider that everyone’s body is different, as is their immune system. If a person has a strong immune system, then it can be possible for an outbreak to occur years after contracting the virus.

What’s more, some strains of HSV are more forceful and aggravating than others.

There is what is considered typical, and that is that people 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 varied statistics and possibilities:

  1. People who already had HSV-1 (which causes cold sores) when they contract HSV-2 may be less likely to show symptoms right away.
  2. Many people are asymptomatic carriers, which seems to be true more often with men, having no symptoms whatsoever but able to pass it on for decades.
  3. Particularly for women, the first outbreak is usually the most severe and recurrences may be more common.
  4. HSV-1 can be passed from the mouth to the genitals, and the outbreaks may be milder than those caused by HSV-2.
  5. Some strains of the virus are less persistent than others.
  6. 88% of people who have it don’t realize they do.

It simply depends on the person, their immune system and lifestyle, and the strain of the virus.

Stress is a common trigger for an outbreak.

Before one happens, people can experience early signs called prodrome symptoms.

Herpes can show up on an STD test as early as 4-6 weeks after exposure. Find out more about how testing works here: when to get tested.

Dormancy In Between Outbreaks

If someone has already experienced an initial herpes outbreak, then they 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 to four HSV-2 outbreaks a year.

However, there are always exceptions. According to the Mayo Clinic, a herpes patient can live outbreak-free 40 years after their first one before having another!

  • Women can have outbreak recurrences on their cervix without knowing it. (About internal herpes outbreaks).
  • Recurring outbreaks have fewer systemic symptoms than the first outbreak. (1)
  • Herpes outbreaks are more frequent within the first 4-5 years of having the virus in most people. (2) They taper off, and sometimes stop occurring altogether. This isn’t always the case for all patients, though.
  • 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:

  1. Stress – As mentioned above, there’s a strong correlation between stress and cold sores and genital herpes outbreaks. Stress can be emotional or physical (such as surgery).
  2. Sex – Some couples with herpes state that the friction of intercourse causes genital irritation, and can sometimes trigger outbreaks. If this is a factor, minimize irritation by using lubrication if needed. (All you wanted to know about sex with herpes.)
  3. Weakened immune system – Those with compromised or taxed immune systems will have more frequent outbreaks.
  4. Hormones – Many women state that the hormone fluctuations before, during and after their periods often trigger outbreaks.
  5. Diet High in Arginine – Learn about arginine-lysine ratios. Foods like almonds and chocolate can bring about herpes outbreaks. Read 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 life. To minimize the frequency of outbreaks, it’s helpful to manage stress in a healthy way. Getting out for a walk, meditating, practicing yoga or mindfulness, relaxing in a bath, or writing in a diary are examples of ways to cope with and manage stress.

A healthy diet helps physically as well as emotionally, and a lysine-rich diet may suppress the herpes virus. All these factors can contribute to less frequent flare-ups.


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.