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Is It Possible To Develop Immunity to Herpes?

immunity to herpes


If you’re one of the millions of adults infected by the herpes virus, you wish nothing more than for the virus to disappear and never return. And if you don’t have herpes, you’re scared of becoming infected.

Unfortunately, herpes is a stubborn virus that currently has no cure. Once you’re infected, it’s a lifetime condition to manage and minimize. Understandably, many people want to know if it’s possible to develop immunity to herpes. 

Can You Be Immune to Herpes?

In short, the answer is no. Just as herpes doesn’t have a cure, it also doesn’t allow for the protection of immunity. 

Your immune system protects your body from bacteria, viruses, fungi and toxins. This natural defense system has two parts: innate immunity and acquired immunity.

When you’re born, your innate immune system is already prepared to fight invaders in a general way. Over time, you’re exposed to many new germs. Your acquired immune system learns how to fight these invaders by building up a strong, specific defense against them. 

So, a teacher is more likely to develop a strong immunity to the common cold than someone who works from home. The teacher interacts every day with children carrying those germs, giving the acquired immune system ample opportunity to develop a targeted defense. The remote worker interacts with far fewer people, so their immune system can’t develop the same level of protection. 

Unfortunately, herpes lacks any viable vaccine, and no one is naturally immune. A herpes infection can also exist without any symptoms and lie dormant for months or years, so sometimes a person might mistakenly think they’ve developed immunity. Simply put, there’s no scientific evidence that immunity to herpes has ever been achieved.

We Still Don’t Have a Herpes Vaccine

Each time your body comes into contact with a virus or bacteria (antigen) that causes an immune response, it stores information about the germ and how to fight it better next time. Vaccines prompt the acquired immune system to do this successfully and efficiently for very specific diseases. For example, vaccines for measles and polio provide full protection from those conditions. 

However, there’s no vaccine for herpes. No company has managed to develop a commercially ready herpes vaccine. At least three pharmaceutical companies recently attempted clinical trials for herpes vaccine candidates, but all three abandoned their research after failing to meet their primary endpoints. 

It all comes down to the unique behavior of the herpes simplex virus. Herpes is a complex virus that knows exactly how to evade the immune system’s grasp. It lies dormant in nerve cells for months or years at a time, then emerges without warning to reactivate the infection. In this way, herpes behaves like cancer, lurking in the body undetected until the damage is already done. 

Additionally, as long as a minuscule amount of infection remains after an outbreak fades, herpes easily survives and reappears in future outbreaks. 

Could CRISPR Create Herpes Immunity?

The ultimate herpes cure may not come from a shot or an ointment. It may actually come from genome editing.

CRISPR-Cas9, more commonly known by its shorthand “CRISPR,” is a specialized stretch of DNA sequences. CRISPR technology was modeled on the natural defense mechanisms of bacteria.

These single-celled microorganisms use CRISPR-derived RNA and proteins like Cas9 to block attacks by viruses and other invaders. As viruses approach, bacteria use this method to disrupt and destroy the attackers’ DNA. 

In December 2019, scientists from Harvard Medical School successfully disrupted the herpes simplex virus for the first time and identified weak spots where the virus may be susceptible to gene editing. This could be the first step in the long journey to achieving a herpes cure. 

immunity to herpes

The Implications of Asymptomatic Herpes

People usually define a herpes infection by its unpleasant and embarrassing symptoms, but asymptomatic herpes is surprisingly common. As many as 90% of people infected with herpes may not know they have the virus because they’ve never experienced an outbreak. 

Yet even people without symptoms can still spread herpes to others due to a phenomenon known as asymptomatic shedding. Asymptomatic shedding occurs when the herpes virus is present on the skin but no visible symptoms develop. The virus “sheds'' from the skin and can spread to others. 

According to research, at least 70% of infected people experience asymptomatic shedding of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) at least once a month. Many may even shed the herpes virus without symptoms more than six times per month. 

Technology has advanced to help us better understand the behavior of the herpes simplex virus. Experts now emphasize that asymptomatic shedding occurs with much greater frequency than previously believed. Females with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), for example, shed an average of 28% of days. 

Take Steps To Prevent Herpes Spread

Since there’s no cure for herpes, the best way to avoid an outbreak is to avoid contracting the virus in the first place. Know the facts and create a safe environment for yourself and your partner. For example, using protection during any type of intercourse will lower your risk, as will having open conversations with your partner.

If you already have herpes, though you can’t eliminate outbreaks entirely, you’re less likely to spread the virus to others if it remains dormant. You should also keep these practices in mind if your partner has herpes.  

Eat Strategically

You can’t go wrong by eating healthy and taking supplements, but certain choices have been shown through clinical and anecdotal evidence to prevent herpes outbreaks. 

Eggs, almonds, chicken, and other sources of lean protein play a key role in your body’s ability to fight infection. In particular, two amino acids found in protein — glutamine and arginine — modulate your body’s response to viruses like herpes. 

Fatty acids are also indispensable in your battle against inflammation. Load up on salmon, chia seeds, flaxseed, and mackerel to superpower your body’s response to inflammation and, in turn, limit or manage the effects of your next herpes outbreak. 

Lysine could also be a secret weapon to prevent the spread of herpes through active outbreaks. Research is still ongoing, but recent reports suggest that daily lysine supplementation may reduce the recurrence of herpes outbreaks. Though lower doses of lysine show little effect, high doses of up to 3,000 mg a day may be beneficial. 

Use the Luminance RED

Luminance RED offers two FDA-registered devices designed to use phototherapy to help manage both oral herpes and genital herpes outbreaks. This type of phototherapy uses medically optimized red light, shining it onto the affected area. The body metabolizes the red light to accelerate the healing process and strengthen defenses against future attacks.

Clinical research has shown that phototherapy is effective in shortening the healing time and decreasing the frequency of herpes outbreaks. 

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