What Does Genital Herpes Look Like
While some people with genital herpes will never have any symptoms, other people can develop symptoms within a few weeks of being infected.
Often, before the lesions appear, patients describe a prodrome, characterized by a tingling or burning sensation in the area where the lesions will develop that can be noticed during urination, along with itching or discomfort in the genital area.
You can also have the following symptoms:
- Blisters on the mouth or lips
- Fever, headache or pain in the joints
- Trouble urinating
The symptoms of genital herpes often go away and come back as recurring outbreaks. For most people, the first outbreak is the worst, and can last from two to three weeks. Future flare-ups are often less severe and do not last as long. Still, some people shed the virus regularly. The following triggers can make outbreaks more likely to occur:
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Menstrual periods
Recurrent genital herpes is most common in the first year after the initial infection and decreases as time goes on.
In many cases, anti-herpes medicine can help patients. When a person experiences a prodrome and suspects a recurrence is going to happen, they begin taking anti-herpes medications that lessen symptoms and shorten the time of the outbreak.
Triggers For Cold Sores
In some people the HSV infection causes cold sores, which erupt following a trigger event such as a cold. This explains the term cold sore. Other triggers that may cause an attack of cold sores include:
- feverish illnesses, like influenza, or chest infections
- hormonal changes, such as the menstrual period
- emotional or physical stress.
It is important to remember that cold sores are a symptom of ongoing infection rather than a new infection. The sores usually recur in the same place.
How Many Different Types Of Herpes Are There
There is no cure for herpes.
- The health care provider may prescribe antiviral medicine to help speed up the healing process. It also shortens the time when the virus can spread from the herpes sores.
- Pain may be treated with medicine such as Tylenol or Motrin or by applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the affected area.
- If sores are in the mouth, avoid foods high in acid, like citrus fruits and juices.
- The infected area should be kept clean and dry.
- Wash hands often and avoid touching the sores to prevent spreading the virus.
- It is important to stay healthy by getting enough rest, having proper nutrition and exercise and managing stress well.
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How To Prevent Herpes
Because most herpes viruses dont cause any symptoms initially, it can be difficult to prevent their spread. You can, however, reduce your chances of becoming infected by avoiding contact with peoples body fluids particularly when someone is having an outbreak or active infection. Prevention tips include:
- Not sharing drinks, food, or eating utensils.
- Not sharing toothbrushes.
- Not kissing someone whos having an HSV-1 outbreak.
- Avoiding contact with objects that have infants saliva on them.
- Using barrier methods such as condoms during sex.
The sole herpes vaccine that exists is only licensed to prevent VZV.
Who Is At Risk For Developing Herpes Simplex Infections
Anyone can contract HSV, regardless of age. If youre exposed to HSV, youre likely to contract the virus.
Remember, HSV is very common. But because its often asymptomatic, plenty of people living with the virus never have an episode or realize theyve contracted HSV.
You may have a higher chance of contracting the virus if you:
- have a sexual partner who lives with HSV
- were assigned female at birth . suggests more AFAB folks than people assigned male at birth develop HSV, but this could also mean AFAB folks are more likely to experience symptoms.
- are immunocompromised
Some older research suggests HSV-1 antibodies may offer AFAB folks some protection against contracting HSV-2. Still, many people living with one type of the virus do contract the other type later on. You wont contract the same type of the virus again, though, since it remains dormant in your body once you acquire it.
You may have a slightly higher chance of contracting genital HSV if you have sex without using condoms or other barrier methods. Keep in mind, though, that condoms and other barrier methods wont always cover the infection site, since sores can appear on the buttocks or inner thighs.
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Is Herpes Simplex Related To Herpes Zoster
Like HSV-1 and HSV-2, shingles can cause a painful, blistering rash. The shingles rash usually shows up on the back, side, abdomen , neck and face. It is often only on half of your body, following the pattern of your nerves. See your healthcare provider if you have a new rash and suspect you may have shingles.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Herpes simplex is a virus. Once you have herpes, its a lifelong condition. A herpes infection can lead to outbreaks , but youll also have times when you have no symptoms. The main sign of herpes is sores that appear on the infected skin. Some people choose not to treat herpes, especially if symptoms are mild. Others take antiviral medications to reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/17/2022.
Treatment For Cold Sores
Cold sores are generally not dangerous and do not cause any permanent damage to the skin. Treatment does not cure the infection and is not necessary for most cases. Avoid picking the scab or breaking blisters as this can cause secondary infection with bacteria, or scarring. Creams to treat the symptoms can be soothing, as can ice on the blisters. Simple painkillers may occasionally be required. Povidone-iodine ointments can be dabbed onto the cold sores and may reduce symptoms in some people.Antiviral medications come in many forms, including creams and tablets. Medications such as aciclovir and famciclovir shorten the duration of the cold sore by reducing the ability of the virus to reproduce. Aciclovir cream works best when applied to the blister at the earliest stages of cold sore development, when the area is tingling. However, not everyone experiences warning signs of an impending cold sore.
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Whats The Difference Between Genital Herpes And Oral Herpes
Because there are 2 different kinds of herpes simplex viruses that can live on many body parts, lots of people are confused about what to call these infections. But its actually pretty simple:
When you get either HSV-1 or HSV-2 on or around your genitals , its called genital herpes.
When you get either HSV-1 or HSV-2 in or around your lips, mouth, and throat, its called oral herpes. Oral herpes sores are sometimes called cold sores or fever blisters.
HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, and HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes each strain prefers to live on its favorite area. But its totally possible for both types of herpes simplex to infect either area. For example, you can get HSV-1 on your genitals if someone with a cold sore on their lips gives you oral sex. And you can get HSV-2 in your mouth if you give oral sex to someone with HSV-2 on their genitals.
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What Is Oral Herpes
Oral herpes is primarily caused by HSV-1, although it is also possible to have an HSV-2 infection around the mouth.
A person with an oral herpes outbreak may first feel itching, burning, or tingling around the mouth, lips, or tongue. Later, cold sores or small blisters may develop in these areas or anywhere on the skin.
Roughly four to six days after these cold sores start leaking, they start healing by forming a crust. Outbreaks of oral herpes can last for two to three weeks, which can be shorter than the two to six weeks of a genital herpes outbreak.
People who develop symptoms of herpes may first experience tingling, itching, or burning, then notice sores or blisters forming around the mouth or genitals.
Symptoms tend to develop 220 days after exposure to the virus.
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Herpes And Newborn Infants
Herpes infection in a newborn can cause a range of symptoms, including skin rash, fevers, mouth sores, and eye infections. If left untreated, neonatal herpes is a very serious and even life-threatening condition. Neonatal herpes can spread to the brain and central nervous system, causing encephalitis and meningitis. It also can lead to intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and death. Herpes can also spread to internal organs, such as the liver and lungs.
Infants infected with herpes are treated with acyclovir, an antiviral drug. They usually receive several weeks of intravenous acyclovir treatment, often followed by several months of oral acyclovir. It is important to treat babies quickly, before the infection spreads to the brain and other organs.
What You Need To Know
- Herpes simplex virus , also known as genital herpes, is most likely to be spread when an infected person is having an outbreak, but it can also be transmitted without any symptoms being present.
- Medications can help reduce your symptoms, speed up the healing of an outbreak and make you less contagious.
- If you know you have genital herpes before becoming pregnant, your physician will monitor your condition throughout your pregnancy. If you have an active outbreak at the time of delivery, cesarean section may be recommended.
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Group C And G Streptococci
Group C and G streptococci are much less understood than strep A and B because the diseases caused by these bacteria are far less common.
Group C and G strep most commonly live in animals such as horses and cattle and can spread to humans through raw milk or contact with these animals. The bacteria can also live in peoples throats and on human skin, particularly in areas damaged by conditions like eczema or on mucous surfaces, such as the or bowel.
Infections can be treated with antibiotics, but severe infections can be fatal, especially when they have entered the bloodstream. Cases are most common in adults older than 75.
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Learn More About Herpes Treatments
Interested in learning more about how herpes is treated? From common infections like HSV-1 and HSV-2 to the varicella-zoster virus, most types of herpes are treated through antiviral medications such as valacyclovir. Think you might have herpes? Don’t hesitate to call your healthcare provider about getting an HSV test.
Our Valacyclovir 101 guide covers all there is to know about this common and highly effective antiviral drug, from dosage guidelines and brand names to side effects, mechanism of action, interactions and more.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standardshere.
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Ruling Out Conditions That Resemble Oral Herpes
Simple canker sores are often confused with the cold sores of HSV-1. Canker sores frequently crop up singly or in groups on the inside of the mouth, or on or underneath the tongue. Their cause is unknown, and they are common in perfectly healthy people. They are usually white or grayish crater-like ulcers with a sharp edge and a red rim. They usually heal within 2 weeks without treatment.
This aphthous ulcer is located in front of and just below the bottom teeth.
Oral candidiasis is a yeast infection that causes a whitish overgrowth in the mouth. It is most common in infants, but can appear in people of all ages, particularly people taking antibiotics or those with impaired immune systems.
Other conditions that may be confused with oral herpes include herpangina , sore throat caused by strep or other bacteria, and infectious mononucleosis.
How Hsv Is Transmitted
The herpes simplex virus spreads between people, usually through contact with saliva or direct contact with a blister. The most infectious time is in the first few days when the blister is forming. Sometimes, people can pass the virus to others when they have no symptoms. This is because the virus may be lying dormant in the skin cells of the lips.
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Can The Virus Be Transmitted During Childbirth
- lack of appetite
- shooting pain at the site of the infection
You may notice some tingling, burning, or itching at the site of the infection before small, painful blisters appear. There could be one blister or a small cluster. These blisters will eventually burst and crust over before they begin to heal.
The blisters that develop during a primary infection may take to fully heal. These blisters can still transmit the virus until theyve healed completely.
Sores often itch, and genital sores may cause pain during urination.
Have You Met With Your Doctor Yet
Do you believe you have herpes? Dont live in fear and take action to protect yourself and others.
If you are sexually active, it is important to have a regular sexual health check-up as there is a chance you can pick up an STI. These dont always cause symptoms, but they can put you at greater risk of long-term health problems.
Although your sex life isnt anyone elses business, its important to be honest with your doctor, otherwise, youre doing yourself, and possibly your sexual partners, a disservice.
Need help finding a doctor who is right for you? Check out our doctor profile videos and patient reviews.
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How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Herpes Simplex
You can reduce your risk of contracting HSV-1 by avoiding physical contact with someone who has a cold sore. People can still spread HSV-1 when cold sores arent present, but its less likely.
If someone has an active HSV-1 infection, avoid:
- Sharing utensils, cups, lip balms or other personal care products.
- Touching the skin near their mouth.
If youre sexually active, you can take these steps to protect yourself and others from the herpes virus and other STIs:
- Be monogamous with one sexual partner or limit your number of partners.
- Get tested for STIs and complete any prescribed treatment.
- Tell your sexual partners if you have genital herpes so they can get tested.
- Use condoms during intercourse and dental dams during oral sex.
Wash your hands often if you have an outbreak or are around someone with symptoms.
If your sexual partner has genital herpes, these actions can lower your risk of getting the virus:
- Dont have sex when your partner has active symptoms. Condoms may not cover all sores, so you may still get the virus.
- Make sure your partner takes antiviral medication as prescribed.
- Wait to have sex until scabs fall off active lesions.
Treatment Of An Initial Outbreak
The first outbreak of genital herpes is usually much worse than recurrent outbreaks. Symptoms tend to be more severe and to last longer. Your provider will prescribe one of the three antiviral medications, which you will take for 7 to 10 days. If your symptoms persist, treatment may be extended. An acyclovir ointment may also be prescribed for topical treatment of initial genital herpes.
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Herpes Is A Common Infection
Herpes is a super-common infection that stays in your body for life. More than half of Americans have oral herpes, and about 1 out of 6 Americans has genital herpes. So chances are a few people you know are living with herpes.
Theres no cure for herpes, but medication can ease your symptoms and lower your chances of giving the virus to other people. And the good news is, outbreaks usually become less frequent over time, and even though herpes can sometimes be uncomfortable and painful, its not dangerous. People with herpes have relationships, have sex, and live perfectly healthy lives.
When To See A Doctor
See a doctor as soon as possible if you notice genital discharge that may be associated with herpes or any other STI.
A diagnosis can help you understand how herpes affects you and start taking preventive measures to keep from spreading the infection to anyone with whom you have sex.
Getting treatment for herpes outbreaks can help reduce the severity of your symptoms and also might help limit how many outbreaks you have throughout your lifetime.
Heres how to decrease the chances of getting or spreading herpes when you have sex:
- Use protection whenever you have oral sex, such as a dental dam or penile condom.
- Limit or avoid sex if you or a partner are having an outbreak of symptoms.
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What Are The Complications Of Genital Herpes
Genital herpes may cause painful genital ulcers that can be severe and persistent in persons with suppressed immune systems, such as HIV-infected persons. 5 Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can also cause rare but serious complications such as aseptic meningitis . 5 Development of extragenital lesions may occur during the course of infection. 5
There are also potential complications for a pregnant woman and her newborn child. See How does herpes infection affect a pregnant woman and her baby? below for information about this.
Do Condoms Help Prevent The Spread Of Genital Herpes
Yes. To prevent transmission of herpes, we recommend that condoms be used 100% of the time. Many patients will shed the virus and be contagious when they dont have symptoms. Studies have shown that asymptomatic shedding occurs between 1% and 3% of the time in patients with HSV II genital infections. Many new herpes infections occur from partners who are shedding the virus asymptomatically, so condoms are highly recommended.
Condoms may not be an attractive option for monogamous couples or for couples who desire to become pregnant. Couples may opt to have serological tests to determine if either partner has an asymptomatic infection. In close monogamous relationships, the risks of transmission can be weighed against other relationship issues, such as intimacy and pregnancy.
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