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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Herpes?

symptoms of herpes

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  • Once you notice herpes symptoms, seek medical attention immediately and have yourself tested
  • Cold sores are the main symptom of oral herpes and appear one to three weeks after you’ve been exposed to the infection-causing virus
  • Indicators of genital herpes may show in various body parts, such as the genitals, thighs, buttocks or mouth

Because most herpes cases are asymptomatic and may only exhibit mild indicators, it can be difficult at first to know if you have it or not.1 Nevertheless, it pays to be vigilant, especially if you think you have herpes, or are at high risk for this STI. Once you notice these symptoms of oral or genital herpes, consult a physician immediately to have yourself tested.

How to Know if You Have Oral Herpes

Often caused by the HSV-1 virus, oral herpes is indicated by the appearance of small and painful blisters called cold sores around your gums, lips, mouth or throat. Blisters can show up at least one to three weeks after you’re first exposed to the virus, and may appear as:2

  • Red and may burst and leak fluid
  • Small and have a clear and yellowish fluid inside
  • Yellow and crust once they’re starting to heal, and then turn into pink skin

Cold sores can be visible for up to three weeks. If you notice multiple cold sores on one area, this may signal a herpes outbreak. Other symptoms that may develop if you have oral herpes include:3

  • Itching, burning or tingling sensations near your lips or mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Increased salivation

The herpes virus can’t be cured and the pathogen remains in your body for the rest of your life after an infection. The virus becomes dormant, but external factors can reactivate it and trigger4 another herpes outbreak or recurrence that’s less frequent or severe.5

Common Genital Herpes Symptoms You Should Know About

You may notice signs of this infection on the skin or mucous membranes of your genitals at least two to 12 days after you’ve been exposed to the HSV-2 virus that mainly causes it.6 Common signs of genital herpes include tingling, burning, itching or pain, and small, painful and fluid-filled blisters. They often appear on these body parts:7,8

  • In men — Penis or scrotum
  • In women — Outer vaginal lips or labia, vagina or cervix
  • In both men and women — Around the anus, on the thighs or buttocks, urethra (the passageway in the penis that leads to the bladder), tongue, mouth, eyes, gums, lips or fingers

Apart from these sores, people with genital herpes can also experience other symptoms, which may last for two to four weeks:9,10,11

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Pain while urinating
  • Fever
  • Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes
  • Headaches
  • Malaise or feeling unwell
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle aches

Just like oral herpes, the virus that causes genital herpes tends to become dormant after the first infection. If this virus is reactivated, it could lead to a milder and less severe herpes outbreak or recurrence.12 A herpes recurrence usually doesn’t last for more than 10 days. Symptoms include:13

  • Burning or tingling sensation around the genitals before sores develop
  • Development of blisters and ulcers on the cervix (more common among women)
  • Appearance of cold sores around the mouth or red blisters


Herpes: Introduction

What Is Herpes?

Herpes Types

Herpes Causes

Herpes Stages

Herpes Symptoms

Herpes Prevention

Herpes Diagnosis

Herpes Treatment

Living With Herpes

Herpes FAQ

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Herpes Prevention

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