If you have herpes, are you immune to a second infection from someone else?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

People with one strain of herpes can get another. Since immunity is important, it is generally thought that getting herpes a second time is much harder than getting it the first time. Transmission of type 2 genital herpes to a person who has antibodies against type 2 herpes is rare. Studies have shown that a person with genital herpes can catch a new case of genital herpes, but other studies have shown that this happens only rarely. In most cases, if a person with genital herpes catches genital herpes while with a partner, they are catching it from themselves – having a recurrence. Type-specific antibodies against your own strain of virus make it very difficult to catch a second infection of the same strain from a different person.

Telling one strain of herpes from another

People with genital herpes often have mild symptoms – or sometimes no symptoms at all. Also, the symptoms of genital herpes such as blisters can be mistaken for other conditions such as a pimple or ingrown hair. It can be difficult to diagnose genital herpes based just on how it looks. In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor can order a PCR blood test or viral culture test. Your doctor can order an antibody test to find whether you have an infection with HSV-1 or HSV-2.

If you have HSV-2, the chance of recurrent infection is higher. Since there is no cure for herpes, recurrent infection is possible, especially if you have a health condition that compromises your immune system. The severity and duration of symptoms can be managed using medication if it is started within the first 7 days. If you suffer from frequent recurrent infections, there are medications available to help prevent outbreaks.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team