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Stress Management Health Center

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Long-Term Stress May Trigger Herpes Outbreaks


Examples of short-term stressors reported included flying on an airplane, being a victim of vandalism, and breaking a leg. Examples of long-term stressors included being worried about relatives, job security, or finances.

Researchers discovered that the more persistent stress reported, the greater the likelihood of a herpes outbreak the following week. Also, an increased recurrence rate occurred after participants experienced their highest levels of anxiety the previous month. "There were no significant associations between recurrence and short-term stress, life events, depressive mood, anger, or phase of menstrual cycle," says Cohen. "Persistent stressors and highest level of anxiety [caused] genital herpes recurrence, whereas transient mood states, short-term stressors, and life-changing events did not."

Why weren't men included in the study? "Because we believed that men and women might differ in how they experienced or reported negative moods and stressors, and could show different relations between stressors and recurrence, we limited our study to women," writes Cohen.

According to her, "Women with herpes can be reassured that short-term stressful life experiences and dysphoric mood states do not put them at risk for increased outbreaks of recurrent genital herpes." She recommends that women with genital herpes who face persistent stress be referred to counseling in conjunction with receiving medication designed to suppress lesions.

According to the CDC, in the U.S., 45 million people aged 12 and older, or one out of five of the total adolescent and adult population, is infected with genital herpes. It is more common in women (25%) than in men (20%).

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