What are the symptoms of genital herpes?
Herpes symptoms are different for everyone, depending on a few factors …
- Your general health and immune system: The worse your health/immune system, the more herpes outbreaks you might have — both in severity and amount. Great excuse to get healthy and stay healthy!
- The length of time you’ve had herpes: The more time herpes has been in your body, the more your body builds up immunity, meaning less herpes outbreaks and less severity when you do have a herpes outbreak. The more outbreaks you have, your body is building up your muscle of immunity, getting stronger and stronger to defend against future outbreaks.
- The physical location of your outbreak: The further your outbreaks are from your genitals, the less often and severe since herpes (especially HSV-2) prefers the warm, moist environment that the genitals provide.
First herpes outbreak
The first herpes outbreak is usually the most severe because of the body being taken off guard by this new intruder virus. Here are a whole slew of possible symptoms you might encounter (you can have any or all of these symptoms depending on the factors mentioned at the beginning):
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and muscle aches. These symptoms usually get better within a week.
- Tingling, burning, itching, and redness at the site where an outbreak is about to occur (see also herpes prodrome symptoms).
- Painful, itchy blisters on the penis, on the vulva, or inside the vagina. Blisters may also appear on the anus, buttocks, thighs, or scrotum, either alone or in clusters. They may be barely noticeable or as large as a coin.
- Blisters that break and become shallow, painful, oozing sores.
- Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the groin.
- Painful urination.
- Abnormal vaginal or urethral discharge.
For some, a cluster of blisters forms on the genitals; for 15-20% of people, they will never get any physical symptoms whatsoever but could still be at risk of passing the virus on (also called “silent carriers”) due to the phenomenon known as viral shedding. Some people claim to feel a “tingling” on their genitals before a herpes outbreak that signals that the virus is preparing to surface (known as herpes prodrome symptoms). Some feel a tingling in their calf, thigh, buttocks or lower back regions because the virus uses the nerve ganglia as its method of travel from the base of the spine (where it hibernates during herpes dormancy) to the skin.