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What Are the Symptoms of Herpes?

Herpes can cause an outbreak of small, painful blisters on or near the mouth or genitals. In some cases, it can also cause flu-like symptoms, such as swollen glands, muscle aches, or fever. People who experience frequent outbreaks can take antiviral medication to help prevent outbreaks and reduce symptoms. That said, many people infected with the herpes virus have no symptoms at all.

Oral Herpes

Oral herpes usually develops on and around the lips. Just before the rash appears, many people experience a tingling, itchy, or burning sensation on their lips in the area where blisters are about to develop. Also known as cold sores, these small, painful blisters are reddish in color and filled with a clear, yellowish fluid. Once they burst, the fluid oozes out, leaving behind a shallow sore that eventually crusts over. This scab slowly flakes off, and new scabs form until the skin heals completely. Most cold sores go away within about two weeks.

First-time outbreaks are often more severe and might be accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen glands

Genital Herpes

This type of herpes develops on and around the genital area. The rash might appear in one or more of the following areas:

  • Outer labia
  • Vagina
  • Cervix
  • Anus
  • Penis
  • Scrotum
  • Thighs
  • Buttocks

Genital herpes is very similar to oral herpes. Small, painful, fluid-filled blisters develop, often shortly after the person experiences a tingling, burning, or itching sensation at the site where they eventually appear. These blisters then burst, crust over, and heal, usually within a week or two. Outbreaks might also be accompanied by flu-like symptoms.

Other symptoms occasionally associated with genital herpes include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Pain when urinating
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder

Recurring Symptoms

Again, many people with oral or genital herpes never experience any symptoms. Those who experience frequent signs can ask their healthcare providers about antiviral medications that prevent or shorten outbreaks.

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