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Common Symptoms of Genital Herpes


Can Symptoms Be Treated?

There is no cure for genital herpes. But the symptoms can be lessened and prevented with treatment. Treatment can also reduce the risk of infecting others.

Your health care provider may prescribe antiviral medications to help prevent or reduce the pain and discomfort from an outbreak of symptoms. Medication taken on a daily basis to suppress the virus can reduce the risk of infecting others.


Can Symptoms Come Back?

People who have an initial outbreak following a genital HSV infection can expect to have four to five outbreaks within a year.

As time goes on, your body builds up more immunity to the virus, and the outbreaks may become less frequent, even stopping altogether in some people.

What Causes Symptoms to Come Back?

When symptoms recur, they usually come on during times of emotional stress or illness. That's because, during these times, your body's immune system may be less able to suppress the virus and keep it from becoming active.

Symptom triggers can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Illness
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Menstruation
  • Stress
  • Surgery
  • Trauma



Can Symptoms Be Treated at Home?

There are things you can do to relieve the discomfort and severity of the symptoms during an outbreak. Home treatments include:

  • Take painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen.
  • Bathe sore areas with a warm salt-water solution twice a day (1/2 teaspoon salt with 1/2 pint warm water).
  • Let air circulate around the sores by wearing loose-fitting clothes.
  • Put an ice pack on the affected area. Wrap the ice pack in a towel or piece of cloth.
  • Get plenty of rest.

There are also things you can do to avoid passing the virus to other parts of your body, as well as to other people. Take these steps:

  • Don't kiss when you or your partner has cold sores.
  • Avoid oral sex when either partner has oral or genital sores.
  • Don't have genital or anal contact when any sores are present.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after touching infected areas.
  • Don't wet your contact lenses with saliva.

How Serious of a Health Problem Are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?

For most people, genital herpes is not a serious threat to their health. Aside from the discomfort, an HSV infection is more of a psychological stressor. It can:

  • Create anxiety
  • Affect a person's self-esteem
  • Interfere with a person's sense of security and intimacy

In some cases, though, complications from genital herpes can be serious, even life-threatening.

Although it's rare, pregnant women can pass on the herpes infection to their child. This can result in a serious and sometimes deadly infection in the baby. If you have signs of an active viral infection when it's time to deliver, your doctor will likely recommend a cesarean section for delivery.

People with genital herpes have a higher risk of an HIV infection. One reason is that cracks and breaks in the skin that result from an outbreak create openings through which HIV can enter the body.

If you have any reason to believe you may have an HSV infection as the result of a sexual encounter -- either genital or oral -- contact your health care provider.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD, FACOG on December 24, 2013
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