Symptoms of Genital Herpes

genital herpes symptomsFirst Signs of Genital Herpes

Most individuals infected with the genital herpes virus are not aware of their infection. However, if signs and symptoms of genital herpes occur during the first outbreak, they can be quite severe.

The first outbreak usually occurs within two weeks after the virus is transmitted, and the sores typically heal within two to four weeks.

Other signs and symptoms of genital herpes

  • A second crop of sores
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Painful urination

However, many individuals with HSV-2 infection may never have sores, or they may have very mild sores that they do not even notice or that they mistake for insect bites or another skin condition.

Genital Herpes Blisters

Each blister or ulcer is typically only one to three millimeters in size, and the blisters or ulcers tend to occur in groups. The blisters usually form first then soon open to form ulcers. Genital herpes blisters may be painless or slightly tender. In some individuals, however, the blisters or ulcers can be very tender and painful.

In men, genital herpes (sores or lesions) usually appear on or around the penis. Browse our diagnostic gallery for pictures of Genital Herpes

In women, the lesions may be visible outside the vagina, but they commonly occur inside the vagina.
Lesions inside the vagina may cause discomfort or vaginal discharge, but may be difficult to see, except during a doctor’s examination. Concerned? Browse our diagnostic gallery for pictures of vaginal herpes

In any individual, ulcers or blisters may be found anywhere around the genitals (the perineum) and in and around the anus. The first herpes outbreak is usually the most painful, and the initial episode may last longer than later outbreaks.

Genital Herpes Outbreaks

Most people diagnosed with a first episode of genital herpes can expect to have four to five outbreaks (called symptomatic recurrences) within a year. Over time these recurrences usually decrease in frequency. If the disease returns, later outbreaks generally have much less severe symptoms.

Read more about Genital Herpes Treatment

Reactivation Triggers

  • Fever
  • Physical
  • Emotional stress
  • Ultraviolet light exposure (sunlight or tanning beds)
  • Nerve injury

Many individuals with recurrent disease develop pain in the area of the infection even before any blisters or ulcers can be seen. This pain is due to irritation and inflammation of the nerves leading to the infected area of skin. These are signs that an outbreak is about to start. An individual is particularly contagious during this period, even though the skin still appears normal.

It is possible that over half of the people infected with HSV-2 shed the virus at some time without having any visual symptoms or rash. It is also estimated that one-third of all HSV-2 infections are caused when a non-infected person comes in contact with someone who is shedding virus without symptoms of genital herpes.

Genital Herpes Symptoms References

American Academy of Family Physicians. Accessed April 4, 2009.
American Social Health Association. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Femiano F, Gombos F, Scully C. Recurrent herpes labialis: a pilot study of the efficacy of zinc therapy. J Oral Pathol Med. 2005;34(7):423-5.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. Copyright © 2009. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Singh BB, Udani J, Vinjamury SP, et al. Safety and effectiveness of an L-lysine, zinc, and herbal-based product on the treatment of facial and circumoral herpes. Altern Med Rev. 2005;10(2):123-7.
Sun Y, Yang J. Experimental study of the effect of Astragalus membranaceus against herpes simplex virus type 1. Di Yi Jun Yi Da Xue Xue Bao. 2004;24(1):57-8.
Thomas SL, Wheeler JG, Hall AJ. Micronutrient intake and the risk of herpes zoster: a case-control study. Int J Epidemiol. 2006;35(2):307-14.
World Health Organization. Accessed April 4, 2009.
VZV Research Foundation. Accessed April 4, 2009.