It is important to note that symptoms of genital herpes may not appear until months, or sometimes years, after you are exposed to HSV (usually by sexual contact with someone who already has the virus).
If you do experience symptoms when you are first infected, they will usually begin to appear between 4-7 days after you have been exposed to the virus. A case of genital herpes that occurs when you are first infected is known as a primary infection. If there are symptoms with a primary infection, they are usually more severe than those of recurrent infections.
Symptoms of a primary infection
- painful red blisters, which soon burst to leave ulcers on your external genital area, rectum (back passage), thighs, and buttocks,
- blisters and ulceration on the cervix (lower part of the womb) in women,
- vaginal discharge (in women),
- pain when you pass urine,
- fever, and
- generally feeling unwell.
The symptoms of a primary genital herpes infection may last for up to 20 days. However, the ulcers will eventually dry out and heal without leaving any scarring.
Symptoms of recurrent infections
Once a primary infection of genital herpes has subsided, your symptoms will have gone, but HSV will still be present in a nearby nerve. It is likely that the virus will be ‘reactivated’ from time to time, travelling back down the nerve to your skin, causing recurrent infections.
f you have a recurrent infection of genital herpes, your symptoms may include:
- a tingling or burning sensation around your genitals before your blisters appear (this can signal the onset of a recurrent infection),
- painful red blisters, which soon burst to leave ulcers on your external genital area, rectum (back passage), thighs, and buttocks, and
- blisters and ulceration also on the cervix (lower part of the womb) in women.
Recurrent infections of genital herpes are usually shorter and less severe than primary infections. This is because your body has produced antibodies in reaction to the primary infection, and can now fight HSV more effectively.
Your symptoms may last for 7-10 days and, in most cases, you will not have any of the other symptoms of a primary infection, such as a fever, or generally feeling unwell. Your blisters and ulceration may occur in the same area each time you have a recurrent infection.
Over time, you should find that any recurrent genital herpes infections become less frequent and less severe. Genital herpes that is caused by type 1 (HSV-1) tends to recur less often than infections that are caused by type 2 (HSV-2).