Herpes | Symptoms

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What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

Symptoms can include painful sores in the genital area, itching, painful urination, vaginal discharge and tender lumps in the groin. During the first outbreak (called primary herpes), some people experience flu-like symptoms such as body aches, fever and headache. Most people who have herpes infection will have outbreaks of sores and symptoms from time to time. Some women have herpes only on the cervix. In this case, there may be few or no symptoms with an outbreak.

What happens once someone is infected?

Once you have been infected with the virus, you'll go through different stages of infection. Each stage is explained in the following sections.

Primary stage

This stage usually starts 2 to 8 days after you're infected, but it can take much longer to begin. Usually, the infection causes groups of small, painful blisters. The fluid in the blisters may be clear or cloudy. The area under the blisters will be red. The blisters break open so easily that they quickly become open sores. You may not ever notice the blisters.

Besides having tender blisters or sores in your genital area, it may hurt to urinate. You may run a fever, feel achy and have other flu-like symptoms.

While most people have a painful primary stage of infection, some don't have any symptoms at all, and may not even know they're infected.

Latent stage

During this stage, there are no blisters, sores or other symptoms. At this time, the virus is traveling from your skin into the nerves near your spine.

Shedding stage

In the shedding stage, the virus starts multiplying in the nerve endings. If the affected nerve endings are in areas of the body that make or are in contact with body fluids, the virus can get into those body fluids (such as saliva, semen or vaginal fluids). There are no symptoms during this stage, but the virus can be spread during this time.

Source

Neonatal Herpes Simplex Virus Infections by Caroline M. Rudnick, M.D., PH.D., and Grant S. Hoekzema, M.D. (American Family Physician March 15, 2002, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020315/1138.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 03/14
Created: 01/96

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