Symptoms of herpes are called outbreaks. The first outbreak appears within 2 weeks after you become infected and can last for several weeks. These symptoms might include tingling or sores (lesions) near the area where the virus has entered your body, such as on your genital or rectal area, on your buttocks or thighs. Occasionally, these sores may appear on other parts of your body where the virus has entered through broken skin. Sores also can appear inside the vagina and on the cervix (opening to the womb) in women, or in the urinary passage of women and men. Small red bumps appear first, develop into small blisters, and then become itchy, painful sores that might develop a crust and will heal without leaving a scar.
Sometimes, there is a crack or raw area or some redness without pain, itching, or tingling. Other symptoms that may accompany the first (and less often future) outbreak of genital herpes are fever, headache, muscle aches, painful or difficult urination, vaginal discharge, and swollen glands in the groin area.
Often, though, people don’t recognize their first or subsequent outbreaks. People who have mild or no symptoms at all may not think they are infected with herpes. They can still transmit the virus to others, however.
Recurrence of herpes outbreaks
In most people, the virus can become active and cause outbreaks several times a year. This is called a recurrence, and infected people can have symptoms. HSV remains in certain nerve cells of your body for life. When the virus is triggered to be active, it travels along the nerves to your skin. There, it makes more virus and sometimes new sores near the site of the first outbreak. Recurrences are generally much milder than the first outbreak of genital herpes. HSV-2 genital infection is more likely to result in recurrences than HSV-1 genital infection. Recurrences become less common over time.
Symptoms from recurrences might include itching, tingling, vaginal discharge, and a burning feeling or pain in the genital or anal area. Sores may be present during a recurrence, but sometimes they are small and easily overlooked.
Sometimes, the virus can become active but not cause any visible sores or any symptoms. During these times, small amounts of the virus may be shed at or near places of the first infection, in fluids from the mouth, penis, or vagina, or from barely noticeable sores. This is called asymptomatic shedding. Even though you are not aware of the shedding, you can infect a sexual partner during this time. Asymptomatic shedding is an important factor in the spread of herpes.