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What are the Signs and Symptoms of Genital Herpes?

Most people infected with HSV-2 are not aware of their infection. However, if signs and symptoms occur during the first outbreak, they can be quite pronounced. The first outbreak usually occurs within two weeks after the virus is transmitted, and the sores typically heal within two to four weeks. Other signs and symptoms during the primary episode may include a second crop of sores, and flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen glands. However, most individuals with HSV-2 infection never have sores, or they have very mild signs that they do not even notice or that they mistake for insect bites or another skin condition.

Symptoms of genital herpes are similar in men and women. Once exposed to the virus, there is an incubation period that generally lasts three to seven days before a lesion develops. During this time, there are no symptoms and the virus cannot be transmitted to others. An outbreak usually begins within two weeks of initial infection and manifests as an itching or tingling sensation followed by redness of the skin. Finally, a blister forms. The blisters and subsequent ulcers that form when the blisters break are usually very painful to touch and may last from seven days to two weeks.

People diagnosed with a first episode of genital herpes can expect to have several (typically four or five) outbreaks (symptomatic recurrences) within a year. Specific signs and symptoms of herpes in women include tiny, fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) on the vulva and vaginal opening. When the vesicles rupture, painful ulcers are the result. In a majority of patients, inflammation of the cervix is involved (cervicitis). Cervicitis may be the only sign of genital herpes in some women. Women with genital herpes may have pain on urination along with infection and inflammation of the urethra (urethritis).

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