The most common herpes symptom are sores on your genitals or mouth. But most of the time there are no symptoms, so lots of people don’t know they have herpes.

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Herpes might not have any symptoms.

You or your partner may not have any herpes symptoms that you can see or feel, or the signs of herpes may be so mild you don’t even notice them. Sometimes people confuse herpes symptoms with other things, like pimples, ingrown hairs, and the flu.

Herpes symptoms come and go, but that doesn’t mean the infection goes away or that you can’t spread it to other people. Once you have herpes, it stays in your body for life.

Genital herpes symptoms

The most common symptoms of genital herpes is a group of itchy or painful blisters on your vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, butt, anus, or the inside of your thighs. The blisters break and turn into sores. You might have these other symptoms too:

  • burning when you pee if your urine touches the herpes sores

  • having trouble peeing because the sores and swelling are blocking your urethra

  • itching

  • pain around your genitals

If your genital herpes is caused by HSV-2, you might also have flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • swollen glands in your pelvic area, throat, and under your arms

  • fever

  • chills

  • headache

  • feeling achy and tired

When blisters and other genital herpes symptoms show up, it’s called an outbreak. The first outbreak (also called the “first episode” or “initial herpes”) usually starts about 2 to 20 days after you get infected with herpes. But sometimes it takes years for the first outbreak to happen.

The first herpes outbreak lasts about 2 to 4 weeks. Even though the blisters go away, the virus stays in your body and can cause sores again. It’s really common to get repeat outbreaks, especially during the first year you have herpes. You might notice some warning signs a few hours or days before outbreaks flare up, like itching, burning, or a tingly feeling on your genitals.

Herpes outbreaks are no fun, but the first one is the worst. Repeat outbreaks are usually shorter and less painful. Most people with herpes get fewer outbreaks as time goes on, and some stop having them altogether.

Herpes symptoms may be more painful and last longer in people with illnesses that damage your immune system — like leukemia and HIV.

Oral herpes symptoms

Usually, oral herpes is less painful than genital herpes and doesn’t make you feel as sick. Oral herpes causes sores on your lips or around your mouth — called cold sores or fever blisters. You can also get sores inside your mouth, but that usually only happens the first few times you have symptoms.

Cold sores last a few weeks and then go away on their own. They can pop up again in weeks, months, or years. Cold sores are annoying, but usually harmless in kids and adults — they can be really dangerous to newborn babies, though.

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