There are two strains of the herpes virus: Herpes Simplex Type 1 and Herpes Simplex Type 2. Herpes Simplex 1 is responsible for oral herpes, more commonly known as cold sores, which generally show up on or around the mouth. Herpes Simplex 2 is responsible for genital herpes and is considered to be a sexually transmitted disease.
When Will the Symptoms of Herpes Appear?
Once you have been exposed to the virus through direct skin-to-skin contact, it can take anywhere from two to 20 days before your first episode of symptoms of genital herpes will occur. While the first outbreak of herpes is usually the worst one you will experience, as much as 60% of those infected with the virus will fail to notice any symptoms because the outbreak is so mild. Even if you do not have any symptoms, though, you can still pass on the virus to your sexual partners.
On average, the first herpes outbreak in men lasts about two weeks while in women the average is three weeks. Additionally, because women frequently experience their herpes sores in the vagina, many may mistake the few herpes symptoms they have for some other type of infection. You may confuse herpes with an outbreak of boils. Boils are larger and more painful, but a variety of boil treatments are available. It is not uncommon for a woman infected with the herpes virus to be misdiagnosed with a yeast infection, pelvic inflammatory disease or an inflamed cervix (cervicitis). While women frequently develop vaginal herpes, it is also possible to develop lesions on the vulva, cervix, urethra, anus, thighs and buttocks. If you have unusual vaginal discharge or persistent vaginal discomfort, it is a good idea to be tested for herpes.
Genital Herpes Symptoms
The most common sign of herpes is red, sensitive skin that develops sores or blisters (often referred to as herpes bumps). These lesions usually show up in and around the genital area, although female symptoms of herpes may cause these blisters to develop inside the vagina. Other signs and symptoms of genital herpes include:
- Swollen lymph glands in the groin
- Muscle aches
- Lower back pain
In women, herpes symptoms can also include vaginal discharge and pain or a burning sensation when urinating. About 25% of women will develop meningitis as a complication of their first herpes outbreak while another 10% to 15% will have troubles urinating because of their herpes.
Recurrent Herpes Outbreaks
Of those people who experienced an outbreak of herpes sores when they were first infected, 80% will go on to have recurrent outbreaks. Although these outbreaks tend to be less severe and shorter in duration than the first outbreak, they can still be just as uncomfortable. Additionally, a person is more likely to pass on the virus when they experience an outbreak, as the blisters may break open and spread the virus.
Prior to the recurrent breakout, though, many individuals tend to experience "warning symptoms" that they are about to have another herpes episode. Often, an individual will have some pain or discomfort in the area that is infected before their herpes sores develop. During this time, you are considered to be very contagious despite the absence of herpes blisters.
There are various treatments for herpes, but no cures. There are many medications available that can ease the discomfort of your symptoms and shorten the length of the herpes outbreak.
Learn more about genital herpes (HSV-2) with facts and photos at STDs in Color.