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Herpes Simplex - Types, Symptoms, Risk, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Herpes simplex is a common virus that causes sores and blisters in the mouth and genital areas. Read the article to know its types, causes, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.

Written by

Dr. Preetha. J

Medically reviewed by

Dr. N. Ashok Viswanath

Published At March 15, 2022
Reviewed AtSeptember 16, 2023

What Is Herpes Simplex Virus?

Herpes simplex virus commonly causes infection of the skin and the mucous membrane. It can cause sores and usually affects the mouth, anal area, and genital region. The herpes simplex infection is caused by a group of viruses that can cause conjunctivitis, cold sores, and genital inflammation. It is a contagious disease that can spread from person to person through direct contact.

What Are the Types of Herpes Simplex Virus?

  • Herpes simplex 1 or HSV-1 can spread through oral to oral contact, which causes oral herpes and other symptoms like cold sores, but it can also cause genital sores.

  • Herpes simplex 2 or HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted disease and causes genital herpes.

What Are the Stages of Herpes Simplex Virus Infection?

Stages of Herpes simplex infection

The herpes simplex virus stages include:

1. Prodrome Stage - This stage lasts for several hours and indicates the onset of an outbreak. Even though there are no sores or blisters during this stage, it is highly contagious. The virus will travel to the skin's surface and cause redness, tingling, burning sensation, and pain. When the outbreak occurs around the labia or inside the urethra, it can cause painful urination. Some may experience headaches, fever, and swollen glands during this outbreak. Pain can occur in the hip, legs, and buttocks, and the symptoms will worsen if it is the first outbreak of the patient.

2. Development of Blisters - In this stage, the formation of blisters occurs when the virus reaches the skin surface. The blisters can begin as small red bumps filled with fluids and can be sensitive or painful. The skin surrounding the blisters can appear red and is usually formed in clusters. The blister can appear similar to the razor burn, pimples, jock itch, or ingrown hair. Hence they are often mistaken for this condition.

3. Development of the Ulcers - In this stage, the blisters will break and drain the fluids, which results in ulcers. These ulcers will be more painful and uncomfortable than the preceding blisters. The ulcers will look like red or pink craters that ooze fluids and rarely blood. The ulcers will accumulate whitish-yellow dead cells, which may turn into a scab or crust. The crust or scab cannot happen in wet areas like the mouth and genitals.

4. The Healing of the Ulcers - The ulcers will take more time to heal in this stage. For the healing, it can take up to 2 to 4 weeks. As ulcers crust and scab, they will recover from outside to inside. When the crust or scab cracks, it can cause bleeding, and the area will remain red for a while. Scarring can occur if the crust is picked up.

How Could the Virus Spread in a Herpes Simplex Infection?

  • HSV-1 can spread by eating in the same utensils, kissing, and sharing lip balms. The virus can spread very fast if the infected person has an outbreak. HSV-1 can even cause genital herpes if the infected person has cold sores during oral sex.

  • HSV-2 can be spread when a person has sexual contact with the infected person. Most people will get HSV-1 infection from a person who is asymptomatic or without sores.

What Are the Symptoms of the Herpes Simplex Virus Infection?

The symptoms of the herpes simplex infection include:

  • Tingling.

  • Itching.

  • Burning.

  • Blisters, when broken down, ooze fluids and may form crust and scabs.

  • The first sores can appear about 2 to 20 days after the person's contact with the infected person.

  • Oral herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2). The blisters will appear around the mouth, lips, and sometimes on the face and the tongue.

  • In genital herpes, there will be the formation of sores in the anus and genitals like the penis, vagina, and buttocks.

Who Is at Risk of Getting a Herpes Simplex Infection?

The risk depends on the exposure to the infection. In HSV-2, a sexually transmitted infection, the people who do not perform protected sex with condoms or any barrier methods are more at risk of acquiring the disease. If pregnant women have an outbreak at the time of childbirth, it can expose the baby to HSV infection and lead to severe complications. The other risk factors of HSV-2 include:

  • Having sex at a younger age.

  • Having sex with multiple partners.

  • Being female.

  • Weakened immune system.

  • Already having a sexually transmitted disease.

How Can You Diagnose Herpes Simplex Infection?

  • A physical examination can diagnose herpes simplex. In this, the doctor may examine the patient for sores or any symptoms.

  • HSV testing, also known as a herpes culture, is done by collecting a swab sample of the fluid from the sore and sending it to the laboratory.

  • If there are no sores present, then blood testing for antibodies of HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be useful to detect the infection.

  • The doctor will take an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for HSV encephalitis and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

How to Treat and Manage Herpes Simplex Infection?

There is currently no cure for this virus, and the treatment focuses on reducing the sore and other symptoms. The sore will go on its own, but the doctor may ask you to take one or more of the following medicines:

  • Acyclovir.

  • Valacyclovir.

  • Famciclovir.

These medications will help prevent the spread of the infection and help lower the frequency and intensity of the outbreaks. These medications will come in pill form for oral use or can be applied as a cream. In case of severe infection, it can also be administered by injection.

How to Prevent Herpes Simplex Infection?

The herpes infection usually spreads from person to person by skin-to-skin contact through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Therefore, these can be prevented by having protected sex and having no contact with the infected person. Using protections like dental dams and condoms can help to lower the risk of getting herpes and STDs.


Herpes simplex infection is a sexually transmitted disease with no cure. Practicing safe sexual practices and avoiding multiple sex partners can help prevent the disease contraction. Avoid having sexual activities with partners who have lesions in the genitals or oral cavity. If you have developed any blisters on your skin, oral cavity, or genitalia, do reach out to a healthcare provider at the earliest and abstain from having sex.

For more information, consult a specialist online at iCliniq.com.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can Herpes Simplex Be Treated?

There is no cure for herpes simplex. The sores often go away on their own without treatment. Treatment is generally symptomatic with antiviral medications like creams, ointments, or pills.


What Is Herpes Simplex?

Herpes simplex is a viral skin infection. The infection persists and causes painful or itchy blisters that come and go. Herpes simplex virus does not cause many problems though it can be dangerous in infants and people with weak immune systems.


Is Herpes Simplex-1 Transmitted Sexually?

HSV-1 is usually transmitted by mouth-to-mouth contact, causing oral herpes (cold sores), but it can also lead to genital herpes. In contrast, HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted infection causing genital herpes.


What Is the Duration of Herpes Simplex?

Herpes simplex usually lasts for seven to 10 days. If one is infected with HSV-2, or genital herpes, the first outbreak might last between two to four weeks. Repeated outbreaks usually last between three to seven days.


Is Herpes Simplex Dangerous?

Herpes simplex has no cure, so people infected with herpes have it lifelong. The virus is rarely fatal for most people but is extremely dangerous for pregnant women as it may increase the risk of premature labor and the fetus getting an infection in the womb.


Which Body Parts Get Affected With Herpes?

Herpes sores appear as one or several blisters around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. The blisters break, leaving painful sores that may take a week or more to heal.


Does Herpes Spread by Touch?

Herpes simplex can spread from one part of the body to another via touch or contacting an infected area. Viral shedding may happen in the absence of blisters, so transmission is possible in the absence of lesions. Most transmission takes place in the absence of sores.


Can Herpes Spread to the Organs?

Herpes can spread to organs like the liver and lungs, leading to hepatitis and acute liver injury. However, it is rare a fatal complication.


How Is Herpes Simplex Treated?

There is no cure for herpes simplex. However, antiviral agents such as Acyclovir, Valacyclovir, and Famciclovir can be used for symptomatic treatment.


What Are the Symptoms of Herpes Simplex?

 - Pain or itching around the genitals area.
 - Blisters around the mouth, genitals, or anus.
 - Painful ulcers after the rupturing of the blisters.
 - Scabs.
 - Painful and burning urination.
 - Urethral discharge.
 - Vaginal discharge.


What Happens if Herpes Simplex Is Left Untreated?

Without treatment, one might continue having regular herpes outbreaks, or they could only occur rarely. Some people stop getting the outbreaks on their own. Herpes usually does not get worse with time.


Who Is Most at Risk for Herpes Simplex?

Women are at an increased risk than men of getting genital herpes. However, the infection spreads from men to women easily. The risk is increased among teens and young adults who are likely to have unprotected sex.


How Does Herpes Affect One's Life?

Herpes is not a fatal disease, and it usually does not cause any serious health issues. However, the outbreaks can be irritating and painful, and the first flare-up is usually the worst. For many people, the outbreaks occur less with time and may stop completely.


Does the Herpes Virus Weaken One's Immune System?

The herpes simplex virus has been shown to slow down the immune system of the person it has infected. This process is complex and involves various ways of attacking the immune system.
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Dr. N. Ashok Viswanath
Dr. N. Ashok Viswanath

Infectious Diseases


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