One of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in both men and women is the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It may be contracted either through vaginal intercourse or oral sex. Once in the body, the virus travels along nerve paths and can stay inactive in a person's body for years; they may never know they have it, as it will produce mild or no symptoms. When the virus does become active, the individual may start to see symptoms of herpes. Commonly, the disease results in a blister or a cluster of blisters breaking through the skin.

Cold Sores on the Mouth

Cold sores on the mouth, frequently caused by the herpes type-1 virus (HSV-1), are a common occurrence. After they first develop, people susceptible to them contract the sores repeatedly. Most commonly found around the lips, the herpes virus can also cause blisters in the mouth and throat. The cold sores start as small red patches that turn into a blister or a cluster of blisters that eventually burst and leave a raw, weeping area. This area usually heals and scabs over without help, but over-the-counter creams can help soothe and repair the skin.

woman pointing to a cold sore on her mouth


Blisters on the Genitals

When genital blisters occur, the herpes type-2 virus (HSV 2) is frequently suspected as a cause. It will first start with a similar feeling to that of the mouth sores, but with more intensity due to the sensitivity of the area. Approximately 12 to 24 hours prior to visible blisters, the skin will be itchy and painful, and may be red, raw, and cracked. A blister will appear, then burst open to become an ulcer, before scabbing over to heal. The herpes outbreaks can repeatedly occur, though the symptoms of clustered blisters will sometimes become less severe than the initial infection. The virus is contagious both during an outbreak and when there are no symptoms or sores.

close up of a blister on the hand


Itching or Tingling Around Genitals or Anus

The first sign of the herpes virus outbreak is itching and irritation around the affected area. The infected person may feel a tingling or itching sensation around the genitals or the anus, or any other soft tissue area like the mouth or nose. This is a sign that blisters will develop in this localized area. The skin will become red, itchy, and may crack a little. It will feel raw and sore, and touching is advised against as this can transfer germs and bacteria.


Swollen Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped glands throughout the body. The lymphatic system acts as a drainage or filtering operation, carrying lymph fluid, nutrients, and waste material through the tissues and the bloodstream. Mostly found in the neck, the groin, and under the arms, these nodes swell and become tender during infection or injury. When someone has genital herpes, the glands around the genital area will swell and may be sore.



Headaches and the herpes virus go hand in hand when an outbreak occurs. Symptoms of a headache include general head pain, which can move from a moderate, dull ache to a severe, throbbing pain behind the eyes. Other symptoms include irritability and sensitivity to sound and light. This headache may also cause generalized muscle aches, trouble sleeping or concentrating, blurred vision, nausea, and loss of appetite.


Flu-Like Symptoms

Flu-like symptoms that can develop along with a herpes infection include a fever with chills, a sore throat, persistent cough, and a runny or stuffy nose. Some people may experience nausea and vomiting or diarrhea. The immune system kicks into action to fight the infection, but until it can complete its work, the herpes virus leaves most people feeling depleted.



The herpes type-2 virus can affect the lumbar and sacral nerve roots, leading to problems with the nerves and nerve endings. People with a herpes viral infection can develop pain in the lower back, buttocks, and thighs, especially if the infection is centered around the genitals. This type is often recurrent and can be extremely uncomfortable and painful.



People with a herpes virus infection may notice general tiredness and weakness and a lack of energy. Fatigue may also find its way into the muscles, leaving them feeling painful or heavy. This symptom can also cause shortness of breath, weight loss, anxiety, and depression, and leave people feeling like they need to nap frequently during the day.


Blisters Inside the Urethra

The urethra is the tube that connects the urinary bladder to the genitals. In both men and women with herpes type-2, painful sores can form on the inner lining of this tube. When urinating, a person may feel a burning or razor blade sensation when urine passes over these sores. Unlike genital or mouth sores, the doctor may need to conduct tests to confirm a herpes infection when the urethra is affected.


Urine and Discharge Problems for Women

When urine comes into contact with an open wound, stinging is a common sensation. Women have more trouble with urine passing over the sores than men because of the shape and position of the urethra. Women may also see a change in discharge when the herpes virus is active. Instead of white, watery, and usually odorless, the discharge may be thick, with a yellow tinge and a pungent smell. This is a sign of infection in the cervix.


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