At first, many people with the herpes simplex virus will not experience symptoms. There can be a gap of months or even years between the initial infection and the first appearance of symptoms. As such, many people are unaware that they have the condition.
If symptoms do appear following the initial infection, they most often become visible between four and seven days following the exposure to the virus. Symptoms of a primary infection tend to be more severe than for a recurrence.
Symptoms of a primary genital herpes infection include:
- Small blisters, which burst to leave open red sores around the genitalia, rectum, buttocks and upper thighs
- Ulcers or blisters on the cervix
- Vaginal discharge
- Pain while urinating
- Flu-like symptoms, including aches and pains
Any of these symptoms can last up to 20 days. When the sores do scab and heal, they will do so without scarring.
When these initial symptoms clear, HSV will remain dormant (inactive) in a local nerve. It may occasionally reactivate, returning to the skin to cause a recurrent outbreak.
Symptoms of these recurrences may include:
- Tingling, burning or itching sensations in the affected areas, in advance of the reappearance of blisters
- Recurrence of red blisters, leaving sores around the genitalia, rectum, buttocks and upper thighs
- Recurrence of cervical blisters and ulcers for women
Frequently, these recurrent outbreaks will be shorter and less severe, because the body will have produced protective antibodies in response to the primary infection. The body now has the appropriate proteins to fight the infection more effectively. Going forward, further recurrences should appear less frequently and be less severe.