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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.

More questions from patients:

What are the signs of genital herpes in men?

The most common symptom of genital herpes in men is a cluster of blistery sores — usually on your penis or anus. Symptoms may last up to a few weeks and go away. They may return in weeks, months, or years.

Many people with genital herpes have no symptoms, or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed.

The first time genital herpes symptoms appear is called the "first episode" or "initial herpes." Initial herpes symptoms are usually more noticeable than later outbreaks.

Symptoms of genital herpes in men may include

  • blistery sores

  • burning when you pee if you have sores

  • trouble peeing if you have sores covering your urethra

  • itching or pain around your genitals

During initial herpes, symptoms may also include

  • swollen, tender glands in the pelvic area, throat, or under the arms

  • fever

  • chills

  • headache

  • general run-down feelings

  • achy, flu-like feelings

Initial herpes symptoms usually show up 2 to 20 days after you’re infected. But it may be years before the first symptoms appear.

Herpes sores usually heal in a few weeks. But the virus stays in your body – and it can flare up and cause sores again.

The only way to find out for sure if you have genital herpes is to get checked out by a doctor or nurse. If you have symptoms, they can tell you if it’s herpes by looking at or testing the sores. If you don’t have symptoms, they can do a blood test.

Planned Parenthood health centers, many other clinics, private health care providers, and health departments offer herpes tests and herpes treatments.

What are signs of genital herpes in women?

The only way to know for sure if you have genital herpes is to get checked out by a doctor or nurse.

The most common genital herpes symptoms in women is a cluster of blistery sores that show up on your vulva, cervix, or anus. Symptoms may last several weeks and go away. They may return in weeks, months, or years. A doctor or nurse can tell you if the sores are caused by herpes by looking at them or by testing fluid from the sores.

The thing is, many people with genital herpes have no symptoms, or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed. Blood tests for herpes are also available, and may be useful if you’ve recently had unprotected sex with someone who has it.

Not sure if you should visit a health center for testing? Here’s a little more info on symptoms of genital herpes.

Symptoms of genital herpes in women may include:

  • blistery sores

  • burning when you pee if you have sores

  • trouble peeing if you have sores covering your urethra

  • itching or pain around your genitals

During your first outbreak, symptoms may also include:

  • swollen, tender glands in the pelvic area, throat, or under the arms

  • fever

  • chills

  • headache

  • general run-down feelings

  • achy, flu-like feelings

Your first outbreak can happen anywhere from 2 to 20 days after you’re infected. After that, you may never have another outbreak again. Or you may find that you get one several weeks or months later. There’s no way to know for sure how often you’ll get outbreaks — it’s different for every person with herpes. Medicine can make them happen less often, and ointments can make sores heal faster and be less of a bother.

Your nearest Planned Parenthood health center can help you figure out if you have herpes, give you other STD tests, and help you get treatment.

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