Genital Herpes Symptoms

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Genital herpes is a common condition affecting around 45 million people in the U.S. The herpes viruses responsible for genital herpes (herpes simplex virus type 2, or HSV-2; and, less commonly, herpes simplex virus type 1 or HSV-1) are transmitted through close personal contact such as sexual contact.

The symptoms of genital herpes vary among people. Most people infected with HSV have no symptoms or have only mild symptoms, but some develop severe symptoms. When symptoms do occur, the infected person usually develops one or more painful blisters in the anal or genital areas that eventually ulcerate and heal over a period of a few weeks.

What are the early symptoms of genital herpes?

When a person is first infected with the herpes virus, if symptoms occur, these usually develop within the first two weeks after infection. These symptoms of an initial infection can include:

These early symptoms can appear before any skin lesions develop. Skin lesions then develop within a few days of the initial symptoms and are characterized by raised, red, painful bumps or blisters at the site of viral infection (often on the penis or vagina). The lesions can also appear on the uterine cervix in women or in the urinary tract in men. Along with these skin lesions, infected persons can experience:

Is there a cure for genital herpes?

Genital herpes symptoms eventually go away, but the virus responsible for the symptoms remains in nerve cells in the body throughout life. Outbreaks of genital herpes may occur at any time following the initial infection, and these produce similar skin lesions as seen in the initial infection. While the frequency of outbreaks of genital herpes tends to decrease over a period of years following the infection, some people still have many outbreaks per year. Doctors do not understand exactly why outbreaks occur, but many people report outbreaks at times of illness or psychological stress.

There is no cure for genital herpes, although prescription antiviral medications are available that may shorten or even prevent outbreaks and help prevent transmission of the virus to others.

Medically reviewed by Eni Williams, PharmD, PhD

REFERENCE: Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.


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Reviewed on 7/13/2016

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