Skip to content

Genital Herpes Health Center

Font Size

Genital Herpes - What Happens

When genital herpes symptoms appear, it's usually 2 to 14 days after a person is exposed to the virus.

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

Recommended Related to Genital Herpes

Potential Herpes Triggers

Some of the following factors may triggers genital herpes symptoms: Sexual intercourse. Some people find that the friction of sexual intercourse irritates the skin and brings on symptoms. Using a water-based lubricant can help reduce irritation. Don't use one that contains the spermicide nonoxynol-9, however. Nonoxynol-9 can irritate mucous membranes, such as the lining of the vagina. Oil-based lubricants are a no-no, too. They weaken latex, making condoms more likely to break. Even if...

Read the Potential Herpes Triggers 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.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: August 14, 2013
    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.
    1
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    STD Overview
    Slideshow
    BHC Healthy Sex Life
    Quiz
     
    things your guy wish you knew slideshow
    Slideshow
    Sex Drive Killers 03
    Slideshow
     
    Genital Herpes Risks Quiz
    Quiz
    Young couple holding hands
    Quiz
     
    Hepatitis Prevent 10
    Feature
    Herpes Vaccine Study
    Video
     

    If you have genital herpes, do you know the person who passed it to you?


    Daughter Development Evaluator
    Article
    HPV Vaccine Future
    Article
     
    STD Facts Quiz
    Quiz
    mother and daughter talking
    Tool
     

    WebMD Special Sections