Herpes Infection: Symptoms,Types, Causes and Diagnosis

Dr. Tara Rar

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Tara Rar

General Physician

11 min read

Key Takeaways

  • The Herpes virus can manifest in multiple parts of the body.
  • Herpes can only be passed on through direct contact with an infected person’s sores or fluid from the sores.
  • Seek medical treatment early in the infection, thereby ensuring you don’t face any health complications.

Infections are caused by different organisms, but viral infections are particularly difficult to deal with because they’re resistant to antibiotics. Infections caused by the herpes virus can be fatal and currently do not have a cure. The effects of it can stay with you for a lifetime. To add to this, the herpes virus is very common, highly contagious, and can also infect children. It means that improper care or untreated symptoms could very easily infect entire families and this could then lead to a trickle-down effect in communities.

Herpes disease, like many other infections, is something you should be aware of, especially if you know an infected person. This helps to protect yourself against the infection and also allows you to take the right measures if you do get infected. Moreover, not all symptoms of herpes are visible, and knowing what to expect can help you keep it from spreading further.

Here is all you need to know about herpes.

What is Herpes?

Herpes is an infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It can manifest in multiple parts of the body, with common spots being the genitals and the mouth.

Difference Between Herpes 1 And Herpes 2

There are two main types of herpes simplex viruses, HSV-1 and HSV-2, and both cause unique symptoms. Take a look at both of these.


Causes oral herpes primarily, and generally presents with ulcers and cold sores on the mouth and surrounding skin. It can be contracted from general interactions and the risk of transmission is much higher when the infected is experiencing an outbreak.


Causes genital herpes primarily, and this infection presents with sores around the rectum or genitals. Typically, the transmission of the virus takes place during sexual intercourse with an infected person.

However, it is possible to get genital herpes from someone with HSV-1 infection. This also applies to pregnant women as genital herpes can pass down to the child during birth. As per the WHO, 11% of the global population are infected with HSV-2 while a staggering 67% have HSV-1. This sheds light on how common herpes is and why it should be treated with utmost importance, especially if you’re around an infected person.

Herpes Causes

It is important to note that herpes can only be passed on through direct contact with an infected person’s sores or fluid from the sores. However, it is contagious, especially since it can also spread via asymptomatic carriers. Here are the major ways one contracts the herpes disease.


Mainly through oral-to-oral contact

  • Kissing
  • Sharing lip products
  • Oral-genital contact (causes genital herpes)


  • Genital-to-genital contact

In rare cases, HSV (HSV-2 or HSV-1) may be transmitted during childbirth (which causes neonatal herpes).

In addition to these, there are other factors that also increase the risk of HSV-2 infection. They are:

  • A weakened immune system
  • Multiple sex partners
  • Engaging in sexual intercourse at a young age
  • Being infected with another sexually transmitted infection

Herpes Symptoms

HSV does not necessarily result in symptoms.

Any symptoms you observe and their intensity will be determined by whether you have a primary or recurring illness.

HSV Primary Symptoms

Symptoms of primary infection, or initial episode, can occur between a few days and a few weeks after exposure to the virus.

Flu-like symptoms frequently accompany primary episodes, such as:

  • Fever
  • Lymph nodes swollen
  • Aches and pains throughout your body, including headaches
  • Unexpected exhaustion or weariness
  • A loss of appetite
  • Shooting pain at the infected location

Before tiny, painful blisters emerge, you may experience tingling, burning, or itching at the location of the infection. It might be a single blister or a tiny cluster. Before they begin to heal, these blisters will rupture and crust over.

Blisters that form during a primary infection might take up to 6 weeks to heal completely. Until the blisters have healed entirely, they might still spread the disease.

Sores frequently itch, and genital sores might cause pain when urinating.

HSV Symptoms that Recur

Some people with HSV only have one episode every few months, whereas others have episodes every few months.

Recurrent bouts become less common as your body generates antibodies against the virus. They also have less severe symptoms that resolve more quickly:

  • Blisters that form during a recurring episode may heal in days rather than weeks.
  • During recurring instances, blisters may be less apparent or unpleasant.

After a few instances, you may start to see early indicators of infection at the location of the illness. These symptoms, which usually present a few hours or days before blisters, might include:

  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Tingling

Antiviral medicine may help avoid or minimize the outbreak as soon as you discover symptoms.

As herpes is still a virus infection, there are a few symptoms that you may experience when infected. In most cases, you’re likely to develop sores on either the mouth or the genitals and these appear anywhere between 2 and 20 days from exposure.

In the case of oral herpes, common symptoms are:

  • Nothing (Asymptomatic)
  • Open sores in and around the mouth
  • Cold sores on the lips
  • Tingling, itching, or burning prior to the sores appearing

In the case of genital herpes, common symptoms are:

  • Nothing (Asymptomatic)
  • Genital/anal blisters or ulcers
  • Tingling or sharp pain before the ulcers appear
  • If due to HSV-1, the symptoms do not normally recur frequently, as is often the case with HSV-2

Besides this, here are the symptoms associated with herpes.

  • Itching
  • Pain during urination
  • Lack of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Tiredness

In some cases, the infection can also spread to the eyes. This is called herpes keratitis and you may experience eye pain, fluid discharge, or a gritty feeling if you have the condition.

Herpes Symptoms Men

Symptoms of genital herpes are frequently minor at first. They get often misinterpreted as indicators of a tiny pimple or an ingrown hair.

Herpes sores manifest themselves as tiny, red pimples or white blisters. They might appear in any part of your genital system.

If one of these blisters ruptures, a painful ulcer may emerge in its stead. When you urinate, it may leak fluid or cause pain.

A scab will emerge as the ulcer heals. Resist the impulse to pick at the scab, as this can irritate the region even more. A scab will appear after an ulcer heals. It is critical not to pick at or aggravate a herpes sore.

Other possible symptoms are:

  • Itching in the genital area
  • Genital discomfort
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle pains and fever
  • Groin lymph nodes that are enlarged

Herpes Symptoms Women

Women who carry the herpes virus may not have any breakouts or symptoms of illness. Many people are unaware they have the infection. Once infected, the virus remains in your nerve cells for the rest of your life. There is no evidence of disease when the virus is not active. A herpes outbreak develops when the virus becomes active. Some women may have no breakouts or simply one, while others may have several episodes.

The First Outbreak

The initial herpes outbreak often appears within two weeks of getting the virus from an infected individual. Some of the early warning signals are as follows:

  • Itching, tingling, or burning sensation in the anal or vaginal region
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever
  • Glandular swelling
  • Leg, buttock, or vaginal discomfort
  • Variation in vaginal discharge
  • Headache
  • Urination that is painful or difficult
  • A sensation of pressure beneath the stomach

Painful sores, blisters, or ulcers may form where the virus enters the body within a few days. These are some examples:

  • The anal or vaginal region
  • The tongue
  • Within the vagina
  • Located on the cervix
  • In the urogenital tract
  • On the thighs or buttocks
  • Other areas of your body where the pathogen has infiltrated

The initial epidemic may not emerge for months or years after infection.

Other Outbreaks

There may be more epidemics following the first outbreak. Most people have fewer breakouts with time. Herpes infection symptoms are frequently milder and fade faster than during the initial attack.

Outbreaks can be severe and long-lasting in those with weakened immune systems.

If you have herpes symptoms, see your doctor to be checked.

Herpes Diagnosis

Examining the blisters might help a doctor or clinician diagnose HSV in some situations. They may also inquire about other symptoms, such as flu-like symptoms, and early warning indicators, such as tingling or burning.

They will almost certainly require a culture to confirm the diagnosis. A culture is performed by removing fluid from the sore and sending it to a laboratory for examination.

A blood test can detect if you have HSV antibodies if you suspect you have been exposed to HSV but have no symptoms. Remember that blood tests may not identify HSV until 12 weeks after contracting the illness.

Because general STI screens often do not include HSV testing, you should speak with your doctor or clinician about being tested for HSV if you feel you may be infected.

You may also test for HSV antibodies at home using an at-home testing kit.

Herpes Potential Complications

Once infected, the virus remains in your nerve cells indefinitely. It is mainly latent, although it can reawaken and cause symptoms from time to time.

Specific triggers can cause an episode in certain persons, such as:

While many HSV patients have just one main episode or none, others have symptoms every several months. You may have more episodes in your first year with HSV, although the frequency decreases over time.

Most of the time, HSV isn't a big concern, and symptoms usually resolve independently.

However, the virus can create issues for certain people, including:

  • Newborns
  • Immunocompromised individuals
  • People suffering from chronic illnesses such as cancer or HIV

Herpes, in the eyes, is also a possibility. If you come into contact with a herpes sore and touch your eye, you might get herpes keratitis.

Herpes keratitis symptoms include:

  • Redness and discomfort in the eyes
  • Ocular discharge or excessive tears
  • Vision impairment
  • Light sensitivity
  • A grainy sensation in the eye

If you have HSV and have these symptoms, see a doctor or an eye doctor as soon as possible. Prompt treatment can prevent problems such as corneal scarring and vision loss.

 Who Is at Risk for Developing Herpes Simplex Infections?

HSV may infect anyone, regardless of age. If exposed to HSV, you will most likely catch the virus.

Keep in mind that HSV is pretty common. However, because the virus is generally asymptomatic, many people who have it never experience an episode or realize they have it. 

If you do any of the following, you are more likely to contract the virus:

  • Having a sexual partner who has HSV
  • People born with a feminine gender (AFAB). Evidence from sources reveals that more AFAB people get HSV than people designated male at birth, although this might also mean that AFAB people are more likely to have symptoms
  • Are immune suppressed

Some earlier research shows that HSV-1 antibodies may provide some protection against HSV-2 infection in AFAB people. Nonetheless, many people infected with one virus eventually catch the other type. However, you will not develop the same kind of virus again since it remains latent in your body once acquired.

If you have intercourse without using condoms or other barrier techniques, you may have a slightly greater risk of developing genital HSV. However, because sores can occur on the buttocks or inner thighs, condoms and other barrier techniques may not always protect the infection location.

Herpes Treatment

As there is no herpes cure, the only solution is to manage the symptoms. Here, there are many options to go with, such as antiviral medication to prevent the virus from multiplying or creams to keep tingling and itching to a minimum. Here are some of the more common herpes treatment options you can rely on if infected.

  • Antiviral medication
  • Herpes creams
  • Pain relief medication
  • Lidocaine creams

In addition to these, there are so a few home remedies and recommendations that can help keep the symptoms in check. Here is a list for reference.

  • Aloe vera gel for sores
  • Corn-starch on infected areas
  • Bathing in salted water
  • Petroleum jelly for sores
  • Wearing loose clothing

Herpes Prevention Tips

Given how contagious this infection is, prevention should be a priority. To help with that, here are a few smart practices to put in place to keep it from spreading or contracting it yourself.

  • Maintain good personal hygiene if in contact with an infected person during an outbreak
  • Do not share objects that have come in contact with the saliva of a patient with HSV-1
  • Avoid kissing if there are active sore in and around the mouth area
  • Refrain from oral sex
  • Abstain from sexual intercourse if symptoms are present

As it can be transmitted sexually, such infections require special care, especially when it comes to herpes. Meaning, you need to be cautious about infecting others and being infected as well. However, in the unfortunate circumstance that you do get infected, you’re now armed with the information on how to manage it and identify symptoms early on. This helps you seek medical treatment early in the infection, thereby ensuring you don’t face any health complications. With the healthcare platform provided by Bajaj Finserv Health, availing healthcare for the herpes simplex virus is easy, simple, and hassle-free.

With it, you can search for the best specialists in your vicinity, book appointments at their clinics online, and avail yourself of other features. Additionally, you can also choose to virtually consult with specialists via video for a more convenient experience. The platform also allows you to maintain digital patient records and share them with doctors digitally for efficient treatment. Get access to all these features and benefits today, and prioritise your health with Bajaj Finserv Health.

Published on 20 Nov 2020Last updated on 10 Nov 2022
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  5. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
  6. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
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  8. https://www.healthline.com/health/herpes-simplex#risk-factors
  9. https://www.healthline.com/health/herpes-simplex#diagnosis
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  14. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/151739#prevention

Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.

Dr. Tara Rar

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Tara Rar

, MBBS 1 , DGO - Preventive and Social Medicine 2

Dr.Tara Rar Is A General Physician In Sikar And Has One Year Of Experience In The Field.She Practices At 'rar Clinic', Sikar.


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