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STDWatch
Hannah Kingston

Mar 25, 20227 min read

What can be mistaken for herpes?

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Herpes is one of the most common STDs, and it’s known for causing itchy blisters. However, not all genital blisters are caused by this virus. But if it’s not herpes, then what is it? Keep reading to find out what diseases look similar to herpes. 

What can be mistaken for herpes?

Herpes is a viral disease caused by different types of the herpes virus. According to the World Health Organization, herpes infections are caused by two types of herpes: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes, while HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes. However, HSV-1 can also be transmitted through sexual activity and cause genital herpes. Herpes is one of the most common STDs and viral diseases around the world, and millions of people live with HSV-1 or HSV-2. Herpes is a chronic, lifelong infection — however, it can be managed through different treatment options.

But that doesn’t mean that any case of blisters or genital pimples is herpes. There are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, and learning the key differences between them can help you identify their cause so you can get the right treatment.

Other STDs

Many STDs cause similar symptoms, so it’s no surprise that other infections can look like herpes. Some of the STDs that can be mistaken for herpes include:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Syphilis
  • Chancroid
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum
  • Pubic lice (commonly known as crabs)
  • Molluscum contagiosum

Hair bump vs. herpes

There are other causes of bumps that look like herpes but aren’t, such as simple ingrown hairs and razor burn bumps. So how to tell the difference between a pimple and herpes? 

  • Ingrown hairs are more likely to cause pus-filled pustules vs. the blisters that characterize herpes
  • Ingrown hairs typically only affect areas of the body that have recently been shaved, plucked, or waxed — such as your bikini line, armpits, and even eyebrows
  • Herpes blisters are filled with clear fluid and usually appear in clusters
  • Herpes bumps do itch, especially when compared to razor burn bumps which are usually sore or painful

Fungal infections

Different fungal infections can cause symptoms similar to those caused by herpes. Fungal infections are typically very itchy, and they also cause dry, red, and scaly skin. Distinguishing between fungal infections such as candidiasis and ringworm or herpes can be tricky, but thankfully, simple at-home STD testing kits can be very helpful. 

Scabies

Scabies is a skin infestation that happens when tiny mites burrow under the skin. These mites cause irritation, skin rash, and itching which could be mistaken for herpes. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, scabies is characterized for causing worse symptoms at night, sores, and thick crusts on the skin. But unlike herpes, scabies usually affects the hands, arms, and other parts of the skin that are usually covered by clothing or jewelry.

Contact dermatitis

Even a simple case of dermatitis can look like fake herpes. According to the Mayo Clinic, contact dermatitis causes a red, itchy skin rash that’s caused by having direct contact with an irritant substance. Many different substances or materials can cause contact dermatitis, including:

  • Soaps
  • Intimate hygiene products
  • Underwear material
  • Tight clothing
  • Lubricants
  • Sex toys
  • Condoms

How to recognize herpes

Herpes is a chronic infection that can’t be cured, and an infected person can transmit the virus to other people even without active lesions. It’s very important to be able to recognize the signs of herpes so you can get antiviral treatment, which can reduce the length and severity of herpes outbreaks.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs of a herpes outbreak can include:

  • An intense itching, painful, or tickling sensation that precedes the formation of herpes blisters and is located in the area that will become affected.
  • Small, fluid-filled blisters that typically form clusters around the mouth or on the genitals
  • These blisters will then rupture and become small ulcers or sores, before scabbing over and healing
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, headache, and chills
  • Painful or burning sensation during urination
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the affected area

Frequently asked questions: Herpes

Can folliculitis be mistaken for herpes?

Yes; however, there are differences between them. Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles and it can affect a single follicle, while herpes is often found around the mouth or genitals, and it appears in clusters.

Can herpes look like razor burn?

Herpes and razor burn can look similar. However, herpes is characterized by fluid-filled blisters that cause intense itching, pain, or tingling.

Does herpes have pus like pimples?

Most herpes blisters will be filled with a clear fluid instead of pus. However, herpes blisters or sores that become infected with bacteria can develop pus. A common cause of secondary bacterial infections includes scratching the lesions.

Do herpes sores go away on their own?

Yes. Although herpes is chronic and the virus stays in your body, herpes outbreaks are typically self-limited and will go away on their own within a few days or weeks without requiring any additional treatment. You can also get antiviral treatment to shorten herpes outbreaks and relieve symptoms.

Are herpes blisters hard or soft?

Herpes blisters are soft and usually feel squishy, since they’re filled with fluid before ulcerating.

Does herpes discharge smell?

The discharge from the fluid-filled blisters doesn’t have a smell. However, some women report vaginal discharge with a strong, unpleasant smell during herpes outbreaks. Since other STDs can cause foul-smelling genital discharge, this is another reason why you should get tested for STDs if you experience any symptoms. You can learn more about testing at STDWatch.com.

Sources

Herpes simplex virus - who.int

SCABIES: SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS - aad.org

Contact dermatitis - mayoclinic.org

Genital herpes - my.clevelandclinic.org


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