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Herpes Symptoms, Signs, Causes and Treatments

Herpes is a common viral infection that affects millions of people worldwide. It is important to understand the nature of herpes and its prevalence in order to effectively manage and prevent its transmission. With the right knowledge, individuals can make informed decisions about their sexual health and seek appropriate treatment if necessary.

By Able Health I Medically reviewed by Dr. Alireza Estedlal

Page last reviewed: February 2024 I Next review due: February 2026


  • Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2).
  • Herpes can be transmitted through sexual contact, skin-to-skin contact, and sharing personal items.
  • Symptoms of herpes include blisters, sores, itching, and pain.
  • Early detection and testing for herpes is important for effective treatment and prevention of transmission.
  • Treatment options for herpes include antiviral medications and home remedies, and emotional and psychological support is available for those living with herpes.

Understanding Herpes: What You Need to Know

Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes viruses: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is typically associated with oral herpes, which manifests as cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth. HSV-2, on the other hand, is primarily responsible for genital herpes, which causes sores or blisters in the genital area.

Once infected with the herpes virus, it remains in the body for life. The virus can lay dormant for long periods of time but can become active and cause outbreaks when triggered by factors such as stress, illness, or a weakened immune system. During an outbreak, the virus replicates and causes painful sores or blisters on the skin.

Types of Herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2

HSV-1 and HSV-2 are similar in many ways, but there are some key differences between the two types. HSV-1 is primarily transmitted through oral-to-oral contact, such as kissing or sharing utensils. It can also be transmitted through oral-genital contact, leading to genital herpes. HSV-2, on the other hand, is mainly transmitted through sexual contact.

The symptoms associated with each type of herpes can vary. Oral herpes (HSV-1) typically presents as cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth. Genital herpes (HSV-2) causes sores or blisters in the genital area. However, it is important to note that both types of herpes can cause sores in either location, as oral-genital transmission is possible.

How Herpes is Transmitted: Causes and Risk Factors

Sexual Contact Herpes can be transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person. There are following ways Herpes can be transmitted:

  • Skin-to-Skin: Contact Direct contact with an infected area of the skin can transmit herpes.
  • Sharing Personal Items: Sharing items such as towels, razors or utensils with an infected person can spread herpes.
  • Vertical transmission: A pregnant woman can pass herpes to her baby during delivery.
  • Asymptomatic Shedding: Even when no symptoms are present, an infected person can still shed the virus and transmit herpes.
  • Multiple Sexual Partners: Having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of contracting herpes.
  • Weak Immune System: A weakened immune system due to illness or medication can increase the risk of herpes transmission.

It is important to be aware of these risk factors and take appropriate precautions to reduce the risk of transmission.

The Stages of Herpes: From Infection to Outbreak

Herpes go through several stages, from the time of infection to the onset of an outbreak. The incubation period refers to the time between the initial infection and the appearance of symptoms. This period can range from a few days to several weeks.

The prodrome stage is characterized by symptoms such as tingling, itching, or burning sensations in the affected area. These symptoms serve as warning signs that an outbreak is imminent. The active stage is when the sores or blisters appear and are at their most contagious. Finally, the healing stage occurs when the sores begin to scab over and eventually heal.

Herpes Symptoms in Men: What to Look Out For

In men, herpes symptoms can vary but commonly include small red bumps or blisters on the penis, scrotum, or anus. These blisters may be accompanied by itching, tingling, or a burning sensation. Flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes may also occur during an outbreak.

It is important for men to be aware of these symptoms and seek medical attention if they suspect they may have herpes. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission to sexual partners.

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Herpes Symptoms in Women: Signs and Symptoms to Watch For

In women, herpes symptoms can be similar to those in men but may also include vaginal discharge, painful urination, and swollen lymph nodes in the groin area. Blisters or sores may appear on the vulva, vagina, cervix, or anus. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and distressing, but with proper medical care, they can be managed effectively.

It is important for women to be vigilant about their sexual health and seek medical attention if they experience any unusual symptoms. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help alleviate discomfort and prevent further complications.

The Importance of Early Detection: Testing for Herpes

Early detection of herpes is crucial for effective management and prevention of transmission. There are several types of tests available to diagnose herpes, including viral culture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, and blood tests.

Viral culture involves taking a sample from a sore or blister and testing it for the presence of the herpes virus. PCR tests detect the genetic material of the virus in a sample. Blood tests can detect antibodies produced by the immune system in response to a herpes infection.

It is recommended to get tested if you suspect you may have been exposed to herpes or if you experience symptoms. Testing can provide peace of mind and help you make informed decisions about your sexual health.

Herpes Treatment Options: Medications and Home Remedies

While there is no cure for herpes, there are treatment options available to manage symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks.

Antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir can help shorten the duration of outbreaks and alleviate symptoms.

In addition to medication, there are also home remedies that can provide relief during outbreaks. These include taking warm baths with Epsom salts, applying ice packs to the affected area, and using over-the-counter pain relievers or topical creams.

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific situation.

Herpes and Pregnancy: Risks and Precautions

Herpes can pose risks during pregnancy, especially if a woman contracts the virus for the first time while pregnant. In such cases, there is a risk of transmitting the virus to the baby during childbirth, which can lead to serious complications.

It is important for pregnant women to inform their healthcare provider if they have a history of herpes or if they suspect they may have been exposed to the virus. Appropriate precautions can be taken to minimize the risk of transmission, such as antiviral medication during pregnancy and delivery via caesarean section if necessary.

Herpes Prevention: Tips for Avoiding Transmission

Preventing the transmission of herpes is essential for protecting oneself and others. There are several measures individuals can take to reduce the risk of transmission. These include practising safe sex by using condoms consistently and correctly, avoiding sexual contact during outbreaks, and disclosing herpes status to sexual partners.

It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle that supports a strong immune system. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, managing stress, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption or drug use.

Herpes and Sexual Health: How to Talk to Your Partner

Disclosing herpes to a partner can be a challenging conversation, but it is an important step in maintaining open and honest communication. It is best to have the conversation before engaging in any sexual activity, allowing both partners to make informed decisions about their sexual health.

When disclosing herpes, it is important to provide accurate information about the virus, its transmission, and the steps taken to manage and prevent outbreaks. It is also crucial to listen to your partner's concerns and address any questions or misconceptions they may have.

Living with Herpes: Support and Resources

Being diagnosed with herpes can have emotional and psychological effects on individuals. The stigma surrounding herpes can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and isolation. It is important to remember that herpes is a common infection and does not define a person's worth or character.

Living with herpes can be challenging, but there are support groups and resources available to help individuals navigate their journey. Support groups provide a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, seek advice, and find emotional support from others who understand what they are going through.

Online resources, such as reputable websites and forums, can also provide valuable information about herpes, treatment options, and coping strategies. It is important to seek out reliable sources of information and connect with supportive communities to ensure accurate knowledge and emotional support.

In conclusion, herpes is a common viral infection that affects millions of people worldwide. Understanding the nature of herpes, its transmission, symptoms, and treatment options is crucial for effective management and prevention. By seeking early detection, practising safe sex, and maintaining open communication with sexual partners, individuals can take control of their sexual health and live fulfilling lives despite a herpes diagnosis. Remember, there is support available for those who need it, so do not hesitate to seek help if needed.

What is herpes?

Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes viruses: HSV-1 and HSV-2.

What are the symptoms of herpes?

The symptoms of herpes include painful blisters or sores on or around the genitals, mouth, or anus. Other symptoms may include fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes.

How is herpes transmitted?

Herpes is transmitted through direct contact with an infected person's skin or bodily fluids. This can occur during sexual activity, kissing, or sharing personal items such as towels or razors.

What are the causes of herpes?

Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 is typically associated with oral herpes, while HSV-2 is typically associated with genital herpes.

How is herpes diagnosed?

Herpes is diagnosed through a physical exam and laboratory tests, such as a viral culture or blood test.

What are the treatments for herpes?

There is no cure for herpes, but antiviral medications can help to reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks. Over-the-counter pain relievers and topical creams may also be used to manage symptoms.

Can herpes be prevented?

Herpes can be prevented by practising safe sex, using condoms, and avoiding sexual contact with infected individuals. It is also important to avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.