Abstract Herpes simplex virus (HSV) normally causes vescular lesions on mucocutaneous surfaces but can also cause encephalitis. The virus can reactivate from the latent state in neurons to form recrudescent lesions. One common stimulus for reactivation is exposure to sunlight. In the present study, the effects of irradiating rats with suberythemal ultraviolet (UV) before or after infecting them epidermally with HSV was investigated. Preexposure to UV impaired HSV-specific cellular immune responses, as indicated by delayed type hypersensitivity (DTH) and in vitro lymphoproliferation assays. However, the number and severity of the skin lesions were not altered. In contrast, exposure after infection did not affect cellular immunity but resulted in a large increase in the severity and number of lesions. In a second series of experiments, the effects of preirradiating with UV on HSV infection was examined using a route of inoculation which was not skin-associated, namely intranasal, allowing direct noninvasive access to the nervous system. It was found that suppressed DTH resulted, together with an increase in the incidence and severity of neurological symptoms and an increased viral load in the brain. Therefore, unlike the situation in the skin, irradiation of rats before intranasal inoculation led to a suppressed immune response to HSV which correlated with increased viral load and symptoms. These results indicate that the effects of UV may be dependent on whether the animal is exposed before or after the infection, and whether the infection is skin-associated or systemic.