Herpes symptoms | What are the symptoms of herpes?

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Herpes symptoms

Herpes symptoms can be tricky to spot. In fact lots of people who have herpes will have no idea until they receive a diagnosis because they often won’t experience any herpes symptoms. 

The symptoms of herpes are the same in men and women, they may include: 

  • A burning or tingling sensation where the blister may develop 
  • Pain where the blister may develop 
  • The appearance of a blistering sore (this may develop in the mouth or on the genitals)
  • Itching around the mouth or genitals 
  • Pain during urination (genital herpes) 
  • Ulcers, which may be followed by scabs while the ulcers heal
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, tiredness, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, tiredness, lack of appetite. 
  • Anal and perianal infections (more commonly in the MSM populations).

Herpes symptoms usually take 2-14 days to appear after primary exposure to the virus. 

According to the World Health Organization, it is more common for those who have genital herpes to not experience any symptoms. In fact, it has been shown that 75% of people who have genital herpes will not experience any symptoms. 

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Herpes symptoms in men and women 

As mentioned, men and women often experience the same symptoms of herpes, however the location of the sores, if and when they do appear will be in different locations. 

Herpes symptoms in women 

As cited above, and additionally, herpes sores may appear on the: 

  • Cervix
  • Vaginal area
  • External genitals

Herpes symptoms in men 

As cited above, and additionally, herpes sores may appear on the: 

  • Scrotum
  • Penis

Both men and women and women may also develop herpes sores on the: 

  • Urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body)
  • Buttocks and thighs
  • Rectum 
  • Mouth

How long can it take to experience the symptoms of herpes?

Herpes symptoms usually take 2-14 days to appear after primary exposure to the virus. 

What triggers herpes?

There are a number of factors that can trigger a herpes outbreak such as: 

  • Emotional stress or feeling run down
  • Too much physical exertion 
  • Illness
  • Injury 
  • Fatigue 
  • Genital stimulation during sexual intercourse 
  • Menstrual periods 
  • Changes in season such as extreme cold or heat 
  • Changes in immunity or low immunity to health conditions such as HIV and diabetes
  • Cancer treatment, or chemotherapy 
  • Surgery 

what-triggers-herpes-infographicBoth oral and genital herpes can remain “dormant” which means that there may be no visual signs and symptoms. This does not mean that you are no longer contagious, but it does mean that the signs and symptoms can go under the radar. 

“An outbreak” refers to a period in which herpes signs and symptoms become visible. During outbreaks, you are at your most contagious. Open sores can easily transmit the infection from one person to another. 

Read “How does a herpes test work?“  to learn more about how herpes may be contracted. 

What can be mistaken for herpes?

If you suspect that you have herpes, there are a number of health conditions that may mimic or “look like” herpes including: 

  • Pimples
  • Ingrown hairs
  • Syphilis 
  • HPV (genital warts)
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Bug bites
  • Yeast infections 

Can herpes go away?

Herpes does not go away on its own. There is no cure for herpes, but it can very effectively be managed using antiviral medications. 

The sores or blisters can heal without treatment but there is no guarantee that they will. If you start to feel a burning or tingling, you can opt for over-the-counter and prescription antiviral medications that can be used to shorten outbreaks, relieve discomfort and stop the symptoms from getting worse during an outbreak. 

Can I date someone with herpes and not get it?

It is absolutely possible to date someone with herpes and not get it. Equally if you have herpes, it does not mean that you cannot date. 

It’s important that you and your potential partner have open and honest conversations from the get-go to ensure that both parties stay safe if you are planning on getting intimate. 

Whether you have oral or genital herpes, it is super important to ensure that you are having on-going conversations regarding any symptoms or outbreaks you may be experiencing. It is essential that both parties realize that there is always a risk when it comes to herpes. 

Even if you are not experiencing an outbreak, you should always use protection to minimize the risk of transmission.

On top of this, there are also daily antiviral medications you can take to suppress the virus. You should speak with your doctor about your suitability in taking this type of medication. 

If you are experiencing an active herpes outbreak, avoid sexual contact, whether that is kissing or penetrative intercourse to lower your risk. 

Try not to stress, you can live a very normal life with herpes, it just takes some due diligence to ensure that you and your partner(s) are staying safe. 

Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here:

FAQs

Is oral herpes an STD?

Technically speaking, oral herpes, which is also known as HSV-I is not an STD, but because it is often transmitted through sex, it is classified as an STD. 

How easy is it to get herpes?

It is easy to get herpes. Herpes can spread easily through intimate skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. 

You can get herpes during unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. 

What does oral herpes look like?

Oral herpes can sometimes look like a pimple in and around the mouth and nose. 

Oral herpes can look like a blister, that usually has a red ring around it. As the blister heals, it may begin to scab over. These blisters and scabs are also known as cold sores. 

Can you tell who gave you herpes?

It is not always possible to tell who gave you herpes. If you have seen visible blisters and/or sores during kissing or sex with a particular person, it may be that person. 

However, the only way to know for sure is if both parties get tested. 

Read: Home STD Testing: 6 Best At-Home STD Test Kits in 2021

Written by Hannah Kingston on May 10, 2021

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