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Many people who have genital herpes don’t show symptoms, or the symptoms are so mild they don’t notice them — so they might not even know they have it. When herpes does cause symptoms, the most common one is sores and blisters that show up on the parts of your body where the infection lives. This is called an “outbreak.”

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What does the beginning of genital herpes look like?

Right before an outbreak, you might feel tingling, itching, or burning around the area where the sores will happen. You might also notice some small red or white bumps starting to form. Genital herpes sores can appear on your vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, scrotum (balls), butt, anus, or upper thighs.

What does a genital herpes outbreak look like?

Genital herpes outbreaks usually look like a cluster of itchy or painful blisters filled with fluid. They may be different sizes and appear in different places. The blisters break or turn into sores that bleed or ooze a whitish fluid. As the outbreak comes to an end, the herpes sores will scab over and eventually go away. The sores can take a week or more to heal.

Symptoms of genital herpes look different at different stages of the outbreak — they usually start out mild but get worse as the outbreak goes on. You can also have flu-like symptoms during an outbreak, like a fever, chills, body aches, and swollen glands. Herpes outbreaks look different in different people, and your next outbreak might look different from your last one.

Your first genital herpes outbreak is usually the worst one. If you do have more outbreaks in the future, they’re usually shorter and less painful. Most people get fewer outbreaks over time, and some people stop having them altogether. There’s no way to know for sure if you’ll have another outbreak, or how often you’ll get them — it’s different for every person. Your nurse or doctor can give you herpes medicine to help prevent or treat outbreaks, and there are ointments that can make your sores heal faster and hurt less.

Herpes sores can look a lot like other skin problems, like acne, contact dermatitis, or ingrown hairs. So the only way to know for sure if you have herpes is to see a nurse or doctor, like the ones at your local Planned Parenthood health center.

What do I do if I have genital herpes?

Some people have a lot of fears and misconceptions about herpes, but it’s a common STD. It can be painful and uncomfortable during outbreaks, but it’s not deadly and it doesn’t cause serious health problems. So if you have genital herpes, try not to panic or feel too bad about it. Millions of people are living with herpes, so you’re not alone. And even though there’s no cure for herpes, there are plenty of ways to treat the symptoms and manage the infection. Your doctor will tell you about the best treatment options for your situation.

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