Herpes 1 + 2 guide

Herpes signs and symptoms


Genital herpes is most contagious from the first tell-tale signs of tingling or burning (prodrome), until sores have completely healed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, more than 80% of people infected with HSV-2 (genital herpes) don't know they're infected...they have mild or no symptoms, but they're still contagious to others. That's why getting tested is so important.

Initial HSV-2 symptoms in women (within two weeks after exposure)

Common

  • No obvious symptoms

Uncommon

  • Blisters, sores or red bumps in the vaginal area, anus or cervix
  • Itching or other discomfort in the genital area
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Flu-like symptoms (including headache, muscle aches, fatigue or fever)
  • Swollen lymph glands

Rare

  • Blisters or sores in and around the buttocks, inner thighs or fingers (herpes whitlow)
  • Difficulty urinating

Initial HSV-2 symptoms in men (within two weeks after exposure)

Common

  • No obvious symptoms

Uncommon

  • Blisters, sores or red bumps on the penis, scrotum or urethra
  • Itching or other discomfort in the genital area
  • Painful urination
  • Flu-like symptoms (including headaches, muscle aches, fatigue or fever)
  • Swollen lymph glands

Rare

  • Blisters or sores in and around the buttocks, anus, inner thighs or fingers (herpes whitlow)
  • Proctitis (uncomfortable inflammation of the lining of the rectum)

HSV-1 symptoms

Common

  • No symptoms

Uncommon

  • Cold sores on the lips or inside the mouth
  • Flu-like symptoms (including headaches, muscle aches, fatigue or fever)
  • Swollen lymph glands

Rare

  • Blisters or sores on the nose or fingers (herpes whitlow)
  • Eye infection

Recurrences of herpes outbreaks

Recurring signs and symptoms of both genital and oral herpes vary from person to person. Some people experience several outbreaks per year, which can be triggered by stress, fatigue, illness, sun exposure or – in the case of women – menstruation. But for most people, outbreaks are fewer and less intense over time.

Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."

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