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How do I Recognize an Initial Herpes Outbreak?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An initial herpes outbreak, the first outbreak of herpes after viral exposure, will be characterized by pain, the appearance of swollen blisters, and a general feeling of malaise. Subsequent outbreaks will be less severe, as the body will be able to fight the virus more effectively. Not everyone who is exposed to the herpes virus will develop outbreaks, and people can carry the virus without having any symptoms at all. Regular testing for sexually transmitted infections is the only way to confirm disease status in the case of herpes.

People who do develop outbreaks will have an initial herpes outbreak around one to two weeks after exposure. In oral or genital herpes, the first signs will be a sense of tingling and itchiness, followed by the development of red bumps. The bumps will turn into fluid-filled blisters and the blisters may pop, creating open sores. The first herpes outbreak is usually very painful, in addition to being itchy.

The patient can have a fever of around 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 degrees Celsius) and may develop headaches, muscle pains, and swollen lymph nodes. Patients often feel fatigued during an initial herpes outbreak. In the case of women, vaginal discharges and difficulty urinating can develop, as herpes blisters may form in and around the vulva and vagina. Men tend to have less severe symptoms and may be limited to a handful of blisters.

Antiviral medications can be provided to treat the outbreak, although it will take several days for them to take effect. Some patients find topical applications of products designed to limit pain and soreness helpful. Genital herpes outbreaks can be soothed by baths in baking soda and other products known to limit skin irritation and pain. During the first herpes outbreak, the patient is also highly contagious. Close personal contact with areas where blisters are present should be avoided, and patients may want to contact any recent sexual partners about the herpes outbreak to encourage them to get tested.

Typically, an initial herpes outbreak is hard to miss. However, sometimes patients only develop one or two blisters, and they may not recognize them as herpes sores. For this reason, people who are sexually active should receive regular medical screenings to check for signs of infectious disease and other medical issues. If conditions like herpes are identified, treatment options can be discussed. Herpes is a very common condition carried by numerous people.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Jan 12, 2013

@browncoat - The first breakout can be painful, but it's also important that people realize that in the long run it's not that bad. People kind of freak out when they find out they have it and sometimes partners will freak out if they know someone else has it.

But, as STDs go, it's not a terrible one and a huge percentage of people have it.

I just hate to see people get depressed over something that's fairly common and isn't going to make much difference to their lives. I saw a TV show recently where one of the women admitted she had herpes and then said "All the brave women do." I think that's a pretty good way of looking at it.

By browncoat — On Jan 11, 2013

@irontoenail - Not to mention, while the doctor can't cure you completely, there are definitely medicines you can take to make the outbreaks more bearable.

People think that a herpes infection is just a couple of little sores, but they are very painful and often in a place that is exposed to a lot of friction from clothing, so anything that can stop the discomfort of an outbreak is going to be well received.

By irontoenail — On Jan 10, 2013

@anon298991 - You can certainly treat the initial symptoms at home. The aches and pains will respond to the same things you might use for a flu and you can put soothing lotions on the blisters.

But herpes doesn't have a cure, unfortunately. Not even modern medicine can provide one. And if you have the initial outbreak, it's better to go and see your doctor about it anyway, because it might be herpes and it might be something else. Sores on your genitals are difficult to diagnose. And even if it is a herpes diagnosis, you'll want to discuss with your doctor how to keep from infecting anyone else.

By anon298991 — On Oct 23, 2012

Can it be cured with natural things at home?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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