The most obvious symptoms of genital herpes are the appearance of blisters or sores on the genitals. Most people may experience a tingling or itchy sensation before blisters appear on the skin or mucous membranes. This sensation is limited to the area where the lesions will occur. These lesions can also occur on the buttocks, anal area and thighs. Women can even have sores in the cervix, vagina, labia and groin. Men may have blisters on or inside the penis, scrotum and groin as well. These blisters tend to be very itchy and painful. The period when blisters occur is the period when the herpes simplex virus is also active. It is during this period that the chances of transmission are very high as you are contagious before the lesions heal. Blisters usually contain a colorless fluid. Coming into contact with this fluid can lead to transmission of genital herpes since the virus is also present within this fluid. These lesions eventually heal to form scabs. Lesions usually take two to four weeks for them to heal completely.
Where can herpes appear?
Apart from the genital area, genital herpes can also occur on other areas of the body, such as the mouth, lips, tongue and eyes. This is primarily due to activities such as oral sex. However, the upper part of the body is rarely affected. Sores or blisters on the face especially near or on the mouth are usually indicative of cold sores, also known as oral herpes. The most important difference between oral and genital herpes is the causative agent. While both are caused by the herpes simplex virus, they are caused by different strains. Oral herpes is caused by herpes simplex 1 while genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus 2.
Another symptom of genital herpes is pain during urination. This is usually as a result of lesions within the urethra.
The herpes simplex virus can spread to organs such as the brain, spinal cord, lungs, liver and gastrointestinal tract, more notably the esophagus in individuals with a weak immune system. This can cause serious complications if it is not prevented.
Apart from lesions, other symptoms of genital herpes include nausea, flu-like symptoms and headaches. Flu-like symptoms include swollen lymph nodes and fever. The lymph nodes near the groin are the ones mostly affected.
However, like in many things in life there is an exception. Not all people with genital herpes may have these symptoms. These people who do not experience any symptoms of genital herpes are referred to as asymptomatic. Just because they do not have any manifestations of genital herpes does not mean they cannot transmit it to others.
Because the herpes simplex virus remains in the body even after symptoms have disappeared, there is a high chance of these symptoms occurring later on. This is known as an outbreak. The good news is that they tend to be shorter and less severe. But the number of times you experience an outbreak varies. For some people it is once a year or not even at all during a year, while others may experience outbreaks for up to six times in just one year. Several factors can increase your risks of an outbreak. These include stress, alcohol and exposure to ultraviolet light. Exercising and eating healthy can limit the number of outbreaks experienced per year.
Visit your health care provider as soon as you notice any blisters or sores on your skin especially on the genitals. In fact it is better to report to your doctor as soon as you experience any tingling or itching sensation on your genitals.
Herpes signs and symptoms
While some people realize that they have genital herpes, many do not. It is estimated that one in five persons in the United States has genital herpes; however as many as 90 percent are unaware that they have the virus. This is because many people have very mild symptoms that go unrecognized or are mistaken for another condition or show no symptoms at all. A person may show symptoms within days after contracting genital herpes, or it may take weeks, months, or years. Some people may have a severe outbreak within days after contracting the virus, while others may have a first outbreak so mild that they might not notice it. Because of these possibilities, it can be difficult for people to know when and from whom they may have contracted the virus.
Some of the common symptoms include :
- Fever and flu-like symptoms
- Nausea or feeling sick
- Muscles ache
- Painful urination
- Tingling, burning or itching sensation in the area where blisters will appear.
After the initial tingling and itching, one or more clusters of small blisters (sometimes painful) appear, which are filled with slightly cloudy liquid. The blisters can be located in different areas.
For many people, herpes lesions can be so mild that they may be mistaken for:
- Insect bites
- Yeast infection
- Jock itch
Signs and symptoms can be found on the penis and vulva, near the anus, on the thigh, on the buttocks, and virtually anywhere in the genital area.
Recurrent genital herpes
Signs and symptoms of recurrent episodes , or when they occur, tend to be milder and heal much more quickly, typically within two to twelve days. After the initial symptoms , unlike other diseases, these do not increase in severity. But when genital herpes recurs after a first episode, it doesn’t always cause recognizable signs and symptoms.
What parts of the body can the herpes virus affect?
When a person has genital herpes, the virus lies dormant in the bundle of nerves at the base of the spine. When the virus comes back to life, it travels nerve paths to the surface of the skin, sometimes causing an outbreak. The nerves in the genitals, upper thighs and buttocks are connected; therefore, a person can experience outbreaks in any of these areas. Such areas include vagina or vulva, penis, scrotum, or testicles, buttocks or anus or thighs.
The frequency with which outbreaks recur depends on your immune system. Why some people have only one outbreak per year while others encounter over six outbreaks is not known. However, a healthy immune system tends to keep the virus at bay.