Symptoms of genital herpes usually occur within 3 to 7 days of getting in contact with an infected person. The incubation period lasts only for a short period before a lesion is developed. During the incubation period there are no symptoms and the virus cannot be transmitted to others.
Symptoms of herpes are known as outbreaks. The first outbreak usually appears within 2 weeks after the sexual contact and it can last for several weeks. Even if no symptoms are observed after 2 weeks, the virus can now be transmitted to another person.
An outbreak manifests as an itching or tingling sensation followed by redness of the skin. These finally give rise to the first signs of genital herpes, blisters on the genital or rectal area, on buttocks or thighs. These blisters break to form ulcers (round areas of broken skin). Occasionally, these sores also appear on other parts of the body where the virus has entered through broken skin.
Each blister or ulcer is typically only 1 to 3 millimeters (i.e. 1/32 inch to 1/8th inch) in size. These blisters or ulcers are grouped into ‘clusters or crops’. In most cases, the blisters form first, and then soon open to form ulcers. These last for a period of 7 days to 2 weeks approximately.
Other signs of genital herpes are similar to flu, such as headaches, fever, fatigue, malaise and swollen lymph nodes in the groin area. These usually start along with the itch and pain in the genital area, similar to any other type of infection. The sores formed are usually seen after these first signs of genital herpes. Within a few days of appearance of the sores, they usually rupture and result in bleeding, oozing ulcers. Afterwards, scabs will form over the ulcers and they will begin to heal.
Female Genital Herpes Symptoms
The female genital herpes symptoms include sores in and around the vagina and on the cervix (opening to the womb). Small red bumps appear first and later develop into small blisters. These turn into itchy and painful sores that might develop a crust and will heal without leaving a scar. At times, there is a crack or raw area or some redness though there is an absence of pain, itching or tingling. After the first outbreak, the infected women may also show signs of fever, headache, muscle aches, painful or difficult urination, swollen glands in the groin area and also vaginal discharge.
Male Genital Herpes Symptoms
The male genital herpes symptoms in an infected person are similar to the female counterpart. First signs of genital herpes are pain followed by itching. After a few days or weeks following the sexual contact with an infected person, the genital area starts itching and slowly tiny blisters start appearing in the shaft and head of the penis and scrotum. In a few cases, these could also appear on the buttocks or thighs. In some cases, there is a yellowish discharge from the head of the penis as well. On appearance of ulcers, there would be tenderness in the penis and the genital area and pain is noticed while urinating.
Genital herpes infections can differ from one person to another in terms of severity. For some, the infections may be painless or slightly tender whereas for some people, the blisters or ulcers can be very tender and painful.
The infection is highly contagious from the time of itching to the time of complete healing of the ulcers. However, infected individuals can also transmit the virus to their sex partners in the absence of a recognized outbreak.
In most of the cases, the HSV-2 remains in certain nerve cells of your body for life. When the virus is triggered, it can become active and cause numerous outbreaks every now and then. When the disease reoccurs, later outbreaks generally have less severe symptoms. Most of the infected people with a recurrent disease develop pain or a tingling sensation in the area of the infection ever before the blisters or ulcers start appearing. The reason for this is the irritation and inflammation of the nerves leading to the infected area of the skin.
Sometimes there would be no symptoms after the first outbreak, causing the infected persons to assume that they are not suffering from genital herpes. For this reason, safe sex practices (use of a condom) should be used between disease outbreaks to reduce the chances of spreading disease to a sexual partner.
The virus can become active again, but there are no visible sores. In these situations, small amounts of the virus may be shed around places of the first infection, in fluid from the mouth, penis, or vagina, or from barely noticeable sores. This asymptomatic shedding can infect a sexual partner during skin-to-skin contact. Therefore, it is recommended that anyone who notices even the slightest signs should immediately refer to a doctor and get examined.