You can become infected with
genital herpes when the
herpes simplex virus (HSV) enters the body through
sexual or other direct contact with herpes sores. HSV infections cannot be
cured. After you are infected with HSV, the virus remains in your body for the
rest of your life. Many people do not have symptoms and thus are unaware that
they have the virus.
First-time (primary) outbreak
period-the time from exposure to genital herpes until the primary outbreak of
infection-is generally 2 to 14 days. But most people may not notice their first
infection. The entire body may be affected, causing you to feel as though you
have the flu. Blisters appear around the genitals or anus or in the area where
the virus entered the body. The blisters break within a few days and become
painful, oozing sores. The sores usually heal within 3 weeks (without
treatment) and do not leave scars. Sores that occur in women usually take
longer to heal than sores that occur in men.
After the primary outbreak, the
herpes simplex virus remains in the nerve cells below the skin in the area
where the sores first appeared. The virus stays in the nerve cells but becomes
dormant, causing no symptoms. In most people, the virus becomes active from
time to time, traveling from the nerve cells to the skin and causing repeated
blisters and sores (recurrent outbreaks).
Sores from recurrent
outbreaks usually heal faster and are less painful than those from the primary
outbreak. People report that certain factors such as stress, illness, new sex
partners, or menstruation may trigger recurrent outbreaks.
half of the people who have recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes feel an
outbreak coming a few hours to a couple of days before it happens. They may
feel tingling, burning, itching, numbness, tenderness, or pain where the
blisters are going to appear. This is called the prodrome.
who have symptoms average five outbreaks a year during the first few years.
Most have fewer outbreaks after that. The pattern of recurrent outbreaks-how
often genital herpes infections return and how long outbreaks last-varies
greatly. Some people have many outbreaks each year while others have only a few
or none at all.
Genital herpes infections caused by HSV-1 recur
less frequently than those caused by HSV-2 and often cause less severe