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Why has my herpes got worse?

If you have had the virus for a while, we expect you will have symptoms less often and more mildly. But we do get people calling our helpline who ask “Why have my herpes episodes got more frequent, now?” This is a fairly common question.

Typically, the caller will tell the helpliner something like this: “I’ve had it for 8 years now. After the first year or so, I hardly got any symptoms. Maybe once or twice a year. Now, this year, for about the last six months, have had breakout after breakout. Why? And what can I do about it?”

The good news

We can tell the caller that the good news is that their body clearly knows how to control the virus. After all it has done so for years…  There are a few people who do get recurrences at the same level as in that first outbreak and for them, there is the option of taking antiviral pills. These are taken either daily or by zapping it each time it starts up.

So, since the caller’s immune system used to be able to control the virus, why isn’t it doing it now?

The not so good news

Something has clearly changed in what your body is being asked to do. There is only so much it can achieve in a day and when it is, for instance, fighting a cold or fever, your body concentrates on that and stops bothering to make the proteins that control herpes the simplex virus. The result is we get an outbreak/episode: and these are commonly called a ‘cold’ or a ‘fever’ blister.

What tasks are requiring your body’s attention that are more important than stopping blisters on your skin? See if any of these factors could be affecting you:

You need your muscles to be in good shape to ‘fight off a sabre-toothed tiger/bring down the mammoth for dinner.’  This means that when we, modern humans, demand our bodies to build better muscles so that you can take part in a marathon, this is a more important task for your body than controlling virus.

You need to deal with the effects of too much alcohol, smoking, or other things that we know are bad for us.

You need to deal with the negative effects of lack of sleep. Perhaps the twins are keeping you awake with their teething miseries…

Perhaps you have changed your diet and are not getting the required nutrients. One person who had changed to a vegan diet found that when he really worked at getting the protein his body needed, the recurrences returned to ‘normal.’

Stress could also contribute to more recurrences. Has your job changed? Is your family stressing you out?

Or perhaps you are in a new romantic situation. We know that thinking about the virus can trigger recurrences in some people. It did that in me in the early days. So maybe the worry about when and how to mention it, or whether or not to take suppression treatment, is raising your cortisol levels and triggering the recurrences. 

More of the good news

If you can work out what has changed, you could return your body to the ’good state’ in was in before. 

Published 6/2/2024

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