Most people do not know they have genital herpes because they do not have any signs of it. Some people may have mild signs or mistake them for something else, such as jock itch or a yeast infection. Sex with others can spread the infection even if there aren’t any signs of it.
If symptoms happen, they appear within four to seven weeks of being around the virus. Just before sores appear, you may have:
You may also have flu-like signs:
Genital herpes is marked by the first outbreak, healing, and more outbreaks. Outbreaks may cause:
Blisters may become painful open sores. Outbreaks appear on or inside the genital and anal areas. Sores can also appear on the buttocks or upper thighs.
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The lesions will heal without scarring within two to six weeks. At the end of the outbreak, a crust forms over the outer layer of the sore and the crust falls off. This is a sign of inactivity. Even though you don't have signs of genital herpes during this time, you can still spread it to others.
Outbreaks may happen a number of times throughout the year, or may only happen once or twice in a lifetime. How often they happen varies from person to person. The first year after the first infection is often the most severe and painful. The second outbreak often happens only a few weeks later. As time goes on, outbreaks tend to become milder and shorter. Often, outbreaks are signaled by symptoms where the virus first entered your body.
People who have the HSV-2 virus tend to have more outbreaks.
2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated January 25, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Genital herpes. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114875/Genital-herpes . Updated February 19, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Genital herpes. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Updated February 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Genital herpes—CDC fact sheet (detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm. Updated February 9, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Groves MJ. Genital herpes: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2016;93(11):928-934.
Last reviewed May 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated: 08/10/2018