Genital herpes symptoms

Genital herpes symptoms are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes virus, known as HSV I and HSV II. Both types can infect the genital and anal area. HSV I commonly causes oral cold sores and mouth ulcers.

The virus can lie dormant in the body for long periods before any of the typical herpes symptoms appear, so when you experience your first outbreak this does not necessarily mean that you were recently infected.

Genital herpes symptoms are referred to as outbreaks. The first outbreak of genital herpes is generally the most severe. You may experience:

  • Small painful fluid-filled blisters located anywhere in the genital or anal area, on the buttocks or the top of the thighs. The blisters will burst after a day or two, leaving behind painful red sores or cuts.
  • Pain when urinating, caused by the irritation of urine flowing over the sores.
  • These genital herpes symptoms are often accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including fever, tiredness, headache, swollen glands, aching and pains in the lower back or in the groin.

The first outbreak of genital herpes symptoms may last for up to 20 days, after which time the sores will eventually dry out and heal without scarring.

Herpes symptoms in recurrent infections

Following the first outbreak the herpes virus becomes dormant in the nervous system but occasionally reactivates and this can cause recurrent outbreaks of herpes symptoms. These are generally less severe (in terms of degree of pain, size of area affected and number of sores) and will also clear up more quickly, usually in about a week. This is because the body developed antibodies in the first outbreak that it can then use to fight the virus more effectively.

You may find that you experience a tingling sensation before you see any visual sores or signs of an outbreak. This is called a prodrome and can be important when deciding on how to treat you.

If you experience any of these herpes symptoms and would like treatment for the infection, visit one of our GUM clinics for expert help and advice.

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