Top 7 Symptoms of Genital Herpes (plus Diagnosis & Treatment)

Symptoms of genital herpes usually emerge within 10 to 15 days after initial exposure to the herpes virus. It is generally transmitted through direct, unprotected sexual contact with a person with active, open sores on the mouth, anus or genital region.

Initially, the virus will cause weakening of the immune system and symptoms can be flu-like, with many patients presenting with a low-grade fever, chills, headache, general malaise, loss of appetite, muscular pain and fatigue. More specific symptoms, like open sores and pain, follow soon after.

Genital herpes is a common sexually-translated infection that will persist chronically. Having protected sex and ensuring regular STI checks with sexual partners will help to reduce your risk of contracting these lesions. 

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Common symptoms 

The main symptoms of genital herpes are:

  1. Appearance of blisters in the genital area, which rupture and form small wounds
  2. Itching and discomfort
  3. Redness in the area
  4. Burning when urinating if the blisters are close to the urethra
  5. Pain
  6. Burning and pain when defecating, if the blisters are close to the anus
  7. Groin pain

Symptoms of genital herpes appear about 10 to 15 days after initial contact with the herpes virus. Genital herpes sores can appear on the penis, vulva, vagina, perianal region, urethra or cervix.

Some people may also notice other symptoms, such as a low-grade fever, chills, headache, general malaise, loss of appetite, muscle pain and tiredness.

Online symptom checker

To determine your risk for genital herpes, report your symptoms below:

  1. 1. One or more vesicles (small blisters) in the genital area
  2. 2. One or more sores in the genital area, anal region, buttocks, or upper thigh
  3. 3. Pain or discomfort in the genital area
  4. 4. General feeling of discomfort
  5. 5. Raised lumps in the genital area or groin
  6. 6. Fever over 38ºC or 100.4ºF

This test is only a guidance tool and does not serve any diagnostic purposes. It does not replace a consultation with a family doctor, urologist, gynecologist or infectious disease specialist.

Diagnostic testing 

Diagnosis is usually confirmed via an assessment by a health care professional and lab testing. The doctor will first review your symptoms and sexual health history, and then visually inspect the blisters. During this assessment, the doctor will likely swab the area to collect a cellular specimen for testing in a laboratory. The doctor may additionally order blood work to confirm the presence of the virus in your bloodstream. 

How it's transmitted

The transmission of genital herpes occurs through unprotected sex. The person can become infected by coming into contact with the fluid from open blisters that may be present in the genital region, thigh or anus of the sexual partner.

Treatment options

The treatment of genital herpes should be monitored by your family doctor or gynecologist. The virus can enter into remission, in which no symptoms or open sores are present, and likelihood of transmission is low. During this time, treatment is not always necessary. 

However, flare-ups will cause the virus to become active, resulting in sore and pain. Patients will often seek treatment during flare-ups to relieve discomfort. The gold standard for flare-ups is treatment with oral antivirals, like acyclovir or valacyclovir pills. Antiviral ointments applied directly on the lesions can also help with preventing complications, decrease the rate of virus replication (or virus shedding), and reduce flare-up times. Some doctors may prescribe low doses of antivirals prophylactically to reduce the risk of transmission. 

To help decrease pain, the doctor may recommend the use of local anesthetic ointments or gels, such as lidocaine or xylocaine. These can help keep the skin moisturized while numbing the affected area.