Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on October 24, 2011

What are the symptoms of herpes?

I’m afraid I might have herpes. What are the symptoms of herpes? Do people with herpes always have symptoms?

answered by
Lisa Oldson, MD on October 24, 2011

That’s a question I hear a lot, so I’m glad you asked.

The truth is, signs and symptoms of herpes vary from person to person. And most people who have herpes never notice any signs or symptoms. Why? Some people simply have asymptomatic infections, while others may experience symptoms that are so mild that they go unnoticed.

However, for people who do have symptoms of herpes, an infection will typically begin with several tiny blisters around the mouth (oral herpes) or on the genitals (genital herpes). Quickly, these blisters may open, causing small, red and painful sores. Some people also experience fever, painful urination, and itching with their first herpes outbreak. 

With an initial outbreak, the open sores will typically heal within 2-4 weeks, but keep in mind that the virus is still present in the body. And ⎼ especially within the first year of herpes infection ⎼ it’s common to have several herpes outbreaks.

How can you know if you have herpes? Get tested. If you have open sores, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor for a viral culture. And if you don’t currently have open sores, you can get tested for herpes with a type-specific HSV-1/2 herpes antibody blood test.

After you’ve been tested ⎼ and if you do have herpes – medications can help reduce the number of outbreaks you have and how long they last. What’s more, treatment for herpes can often help protect your sexual partner(s) from getting genital herpes as well.

You can read more about herpes symptoms, risks, testing, treatment and prevention in our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2. 

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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