What Causes Recurring Outbreaks of HSV?

Herpes simplex virus, or HSV, is a virus that can be transmitted through sexual contact.  Because it is a virus, there is no real cure for the infection.  Rather you can take medications that suppress it and treat symptoms.

Once you have the HSV virus in your body, it will remain in the body.  However, some people will have few if any outbreaks while others will experience recurring outbreaks.  Let’s take a look at factors that might cause someone to experience recurrent outbreaks.

HSV Strain

The herpes simplex virus has more than one strain.  HSV type 1 is transmitted through sores on the skin around the mouth and is spread through kissing and sharing drinks and eating utensils.  This is the cause for cold sores.

HSV type 2 is the strain that can only be spread through sexual contact with someone who has a genital HSV infection.  Either strain of HSV will produce recurring outbreaks.  However, the type 2 strain is more likely to do so.

Usually the first outbreak is the worst with both HSV virus strains and recurring infections are less severe.

Sexual Intercourse

During sexual intercourse there is a lot of friction between the genitals.  This friction can irritate the skin and lead to an outbreak of HSV.  The best way to reduce the risk of this type of trigger is to use a water-based lubricant during sexual intercourse.

One thing to watch out for is lubricants that contain spermicide.  While these can aid in pregnancy prevention, they actually may cause more irritation to the delicate tissues of the urethra and vagina and trigger an outbreak.

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes can trigger genital herpes outbreaks.  In particular women can have issues with this at different points in the menstrual cycle.  Stress can also trigger hormonal changes in both men and women and this can trigger an outbreak.


A common cold or similar illness can trigger an outbreak of oral herpes from HSV strain 1.  However, this is less likely to cause an outbreak of genital herpes from HSV strain 2.  If you have a cold, don’t be surprised if you have trouble with cold sores as well.


Sunlight has also been found to be a trigger for cold sores from oral herpes.  However, it is not associated with causing a genital herpes outbreak.  In general, though, the genital areas of the body have less exposure to sun.

To prevent oral herpes outbreaks, make sure that you were sunscreen or a hat to prevent sun exposure to your mouth.

Weakened Immune System

There are many things that can weaken your immune system. For example if you’ve had an illness or injury that has caused trauma to the body, you may be more likely to experience a herpes outbreak of any kind.

Surgery can trigger your immune system to weaken and leave you more vulnerable to outbreaks.  Additionally you may experience problems if you undergo chemotherapy or if you have an autoimmune condition such as HIV.

Triggers can be different for everyone.  It can be very helpful to keep a log of your outbreaks and record what’s going on in your life at the time so that you can determine your personal triggers and work to prevent those as much as possible.

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