Can a Man Pass on Herpes Without Symptoms?

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

Could a man carry the virus and pass it on to his partner without even knowing it? Would he require symptoms to transmit the condition?

Doctor’s response

Herpes can be passed form person to person without the individual (male or female) knowing that they have an outbreak or even the infection.

The classic herpes outbreak is the clustering of painful blisters that become ulcers which finally heal after a few days. However, in some individuals, the outbreak is 'atypical' in that they only have redness with or without itching, and the blisters may be so small as to not be noticed. The virus is shed during the symptom period (symptoms only, no blisters), through the blistering, ulcerating and finally the healed phase. Only when the lesion is fully healed, is virus no longer capable of being shed.

In order for the male to infect his partner, he must have some evidence of an outbreak, but it could be very minimal, easy to overlook or in a location not easily seen such as on the underside of the penis, on the scrotum etc.

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Reviewed on 1/11/2018