Herpes and Viral Shedding
What you need to know about the herpes virus
Welcome to today’s episode of Life With Herpes. As always I am thrilled to have you here with me, and I am thrilled to be doing whatever it is you are doing. Today I want to get specific and nitty-gritty about viral shedding. This is a question I see a lot, and I also see it become the root to a lot of the questions I see so I thought I would get as detailed as possible when it comes to viral shedding. So let’s start from the beginning.
What is Viral Shedding?
According to Wikipedia (because I had to look it up lol), The term is used to refer to shedding from a single cell, shedding from one part of the body into another part of the body, and shedding from bodies into the environment where the viruses may infect other bodies. Let me put this into layman's terms; the virus is just like any other part of our body that wants to shed or get rid of waste. In other words, the virus pops up to the surface of your skin, and it is contagious at that time.
What are the symptoms or signs of viral shedding?
Viral shedding is asymptomatic which means there are no symptoms or signs. Unlike when we get outbreaks we have tingling, or pain, or itching or another type of the trigger that let us know we have an outbreak. When viral shedding occurs, the person has no idea that is happening. The good news is there is no outbreak or swollen lymph nodes or any other symptoms we have to deal with when we get outbreaks. But the bad news is you don’t know it is happening, so it is hard to protect your partner or give them heads up. The only way to know if you are contagious and your herpes virus has decided to shed would be to go to the doctor and have a medical professional swab your genital or oral area. This is a waste of everyone's time, money, and energy because by the time you would get your results back your contagious window would be closed.
Are there times when viral shedding occurs?
Unfortunately, we cannot predict when it happens. It is not like it’s a seasonal thing like the flu or a monthly thing like a period. It just happens. However, there is some good news. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) people with Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV1) viral shedding only occurs 5% of the time. If you have Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV2), then the virus sheds 6-10% of the time during the first year and then decreases after that. Why the first year? Most likely because your body is trying to adjust to the newest member of the family. Your body is trying to fight it off and protect itself from getting sick or having an outbreak. As time continues in most people, your body builds up immunity, and you will have fewer outbreaks. So it makes sense that you would have less viral shedding.
Do antivirals help with reducing viral shedding?
Yes, they actually do so this is great news. Studies have shown that daily use of Valtrex also reduces the proclivity of the virus to “shed”, or be contagious as often. Its use appears in studies to reduce the viral shedding periods by 50%. Antivirals such as Valtrex and Valacyclovir inhibit the development of the virus or in layman's terms prevent an outbreak from occurring. Antivirals do not cure herpes, guarantee that there will not be an outbreak or prevent viral shedding. They suppress the virus so that it stays dormant in your body.
What are the best methods to prevent passing herpes to my partner?
There is no magic pill or guarantee that herpes will not be transmitted. Unfortunately, the virus is very contagious and for it to survive it needs to continue to find more hosts. Otherwise, we would not be dealing with herpes thousands of years down the road. It would have died out like the dinosaurs. Two ways you can prevent passing herpes to your partner are condoms and a daily antiviral. However, this is not a guarantee. For example, when using a male condom, there are still areas of the genital area that are not covered, and body parts will touch other exposed body parts during vaginal sex, oral sex, and anal sex. Yes, condoms cover a good portion and help protect you, but they are not going to cover the area completely. And as you have learned from reading this article taking the daily antiviral will lessen your chance of having an outbreak as well as lessen your chance of viral shedding. So using them combined will help protect your partner.