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What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

The first episode of genital herpes is referred to as the primary outbreak, an episode occurring within a week or two after exposure. When it produces symptoms, the primary outbreak is characterized by lesions at the infection site and can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including headache, fever, painful urination and swollen glands in the groin.

Usually, small red bumps appear first, develop into blisters and then become painful open sores. Lesions can occur on the pubic hair area, vulva and perineum, inside the vagina and on the cervix in women, on the penis in men, at the rectum or the urethral opening of women and men or on the buttocks or thighs. These lesions usually heal within two to four weeks. Scabs may form on skin surfaces, such as the penis, but not on mucosal surfaces such as the vagina.

Not all individuals who are exposed to the virus will experience a primary episode directly following exposure, or the symptoms may be so mild that they go unrecognized.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Many people who have been infected by genital herpes don't have symptoms and are unaware of the disease yet are still infectious and spread the disease to their partners. Within the first week or two after infection, symptoms can include fatigue, muscle aches, and itching. Ten days or so after infection, a small blister usually appears in the genital region. The blister can burst and remain for several weeks, causing pain and discomfort. Once the initial outbreak heals, victims remain infected for the rest of their lives and may suffer recurrent outbreaks. Although herpes can be both painful and embarrassing, it is not life-threatening.
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The symptoms of genital herpes vary from person to person. Most people with genital herpes are not aware they are infected. But, if symptoms do occur with the first outbreak, they can be severe. Genital herpes infection also can be severe and long-lasting in people whose immune systems don't work properly, such as people with HIV.

The first outbreak usually happens within 2 weeks of having sexual contact with an infected person, and symptoms can last from 2 to 3 weeks. Early symptoms of the first outbreak can include:

Itching or burning feeling in the genital or anal area Flu-like symptoms, including fever Swollen glands Pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area Vaginal discharge A feeling of pressure in the area below the stomach

Within a few days, sores show up where the virus has entered the body, such as on the mouth, penis, or vagina. Sores can also show up on a woman's cervix or in the urinary passage in men. The sores are small red bumps that may turn into blisters or painful open sores. Over a period of days, the sores become crusted and then heal without scarring. Sometimes with the first outbreak, a second crop of sores appear and flu-like symptoms occur again.

Some people have no symptoms. Or they might mistaken mild sores for insect bites or something else. Yet even without symptoms, a person can still pass the herpes virus to others. So, if you have signs of herpes, see your doctor to find out if you are infected.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.