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Herpes

Herpes results from infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It causes sores or blisters to form in or around the mouth or genitals, as well as other symptoms.

There are two types of HSV

  • HSV-1 causes oral herpes, which usually affects the mouth and surrounding skin.
  • HSV-2 causes genital herpes, which is usually sexually transmitted.

If a person has an HSV infection, they will have it for the rest of their life, though some people never develop symptoms. If symptoms occur, they reflect the type of HSV.

There is no cure for herpes, but treatment can help manage symptoms and reduce the likelihood of them recurring.

HSV is a common virus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 67% of people, globally, have an HSV-1 infection, and 11% have an HSV-2 infection.

In this article, we describe the symptoms of genital and oral herpes, how to treat them, and how to prevent these infections.

Symptoms

People who develop symptoms of herpes may first experience tingling, itching, or burning, then notice sores or blisters forming around the mouth or genitals.

Symptoms tend to develop 2–20 days after exposure to the virus.

Oral herpes

Oral herpes causes blisters, sometimes called fever sores or cold sores, to develop in or around the lips and mouth.

Sometimes these blisters form elsewhere on the face or on the tongue, and more rarely on other areas of skin.

The sores usually last 2–3 weeks at a time.

Genital herpes

These sores tend to develop on the penis, around or inside the vagina, on the buttocks, or on the anus, though they can form on other areas of skin.

Herpes can also cause pain when urinating and changes in vaginal discharge.

The first time a person develops the sores, they may last 2–6 weeks.

Soon after this initial outbreak, symptoms may recur frequently. Over time, outbreaks may occur less often and the symptoms tend to become less severe.

Primary symptoms

These occur when a person first develops the infection. Alongside sores or blisters, herpes may cause:

  • pain and itching
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • a fever
  • fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell
  • In most cases, the lesions heal without long-term scarring