Most people who've been infected with HSV don't know they have the infection because they have no signs or symptoms or because their signs and symptoms are so mild.
When present, the symptoms of genital herpes include:
- Pain or itching that begins within two to 10 days after exposure to an infected sexual partner
- Small red bumps or tiny white blisters, which may appear several days later
- Ulcers that form when the blisters rupture and ooze or bleed
- Scabs that form as the ulcers heal
Ulcers may make it painful to urinate. You also may experience pain and tenderness in your genital area until the infection clears.
During an initial outbreak, you may have flu-like signs and symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes in your groin, headache, muscle aches and fever.
Differences in symptom location
Sores appear where the infection entered your body. You can spread the infection by touching a sore and then rubbing or scratching another area of your body, including your eyes.
Men and women can develop sores on the:
Women can also develop sores in or on the:
- Vaginal area
- External genitals
Men can also develop sores in or on the:
- Urethra, the channel inside the penis leading to the bladder
Recurrences are common
Genital herpes is different for each person. The signs and symptoms may recur, off and on, for years. Some people experience numerous episodes each year. For many people, however, the outbreaks are less frequent as time passes.
During a recurrence, shortly before sores appear, you may feel:
- Burning, tingling and itching where the infection first entered your body
- Pain in your lower back, buttocks and legs
However, recurrences are generally less painful than the original outbreak, and sores generally heal more quickly.
When to see a doctor
If you suspect you have genital herpes — or any other sexually transmitted infection — see your doctor.