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Genital Herpes - What Happens

When genital herpes symptoms appear, it's usually 2 to 14 days after a person is exposed to the virus. But most people don't notice their first outbreak.

And sometimes people get their first symptoms months or even years after being infected.

Recommended Related to Genital Herpes

The Basics About Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a disease caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), of which there are two types. Type 1 (HSV-1) usually causes oral herpes, an infection of the lips and mouth. Symptoms are commonly known as cold sores or fever blisters. In the past, HSV-1 was not known to cause genital herpes, but that is changing, especially among people who begin having sex at a young age. Still, in most cases, genital herpes is caused by the second type of herpes virus (HSV-2). HSV-2 lives in the...

Read the The Basics About Genital Herpes article > >

The herpes virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. After the first outbreak, it becomes inactive. Then, in most people, it gets active again from time to time, causing blisters and sores.

Repeated outbreaks

Some people have many outbreaks each year, while others have only a few or none at all. People who have symptoms average 5 outbreaks a year during the first few years. Most have fewer outbreaks after that.

People report that certain things may trigger outbreaks, such as:

  • Emotional stress.
  • Fatigue.
  • Other infections, such as a cold or the flu.
  • Physical injury, such as irritation, of the genital area.
  • New sex partners.
  • Menstruation.
  • Any condition that weakens the immune system.

About half of the people who have repeated outbreaks can feel one 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 about to appear.

Other problems

People who have an impaired immune system are more likely to have longer and/or more severe outbreaks of genital herpes than people whose immune systems are healthy.

Although it's rare, genital herpes can cause other health problems—some of them serious—if the virus travels to other parts of the body.

In rare cases, a newborn is infected with the herpes virus during delivery. Because their immune systems aren't fully developed, newborns with herpes infection can have serious health problems affecting many body systems. It may take up to 3 weeks after a newborn is infected before he or she becomes ill.

If the mother has a genital herpes blister or sore at the time of labor and delivery, a cesarean section is usually done. Cesarean section may be recommended if a woman has tingling or pain suggesting an impending outbreak.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 20, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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