Genital Herpes Outbreak
The Stages of a Genital Herpes Outbreak
After the warning signs of a genital herpes outbreak, if the outbreak isn't treated, one or more
sores begin to develop on the skin. The virus is active on the skin during this time. Remember, not all people with
genital herpes experience visible sores during an outbreak.
Sores develop in the following stages:
Early redness may be seen in
a small area of skin. This area may be sensitive, itchy, or painful to the touch.
Small area of swelling, which
may not be noticed.
Small blisters filled with
fluid (clear, whitish, or red) form on top of the area that had early redness and/or swelling. There may be one
blister, a few blisters, or groups of blisters.
Wet ulcers appear when the
tops of the blisters come off. They may look like red, swollen areas or small cuts. These sores may feel tender
and/or raw to the touch. There may be one tiny sore, a group of sores, or several large ulcers.
Genital Herpes Outbreak
Dry crust (scab) forms over
the wet ulcer as the sore begins to heal. The crust hardens as the sore dries, and new skin grows underneath the
Healing is complete when the
crust falls off or the sore dries without forming a crust. The area where the sore appeared may be red or look
different than the surrounding skin.
During the asymptomatic phase, the genital herpes virus is usually dormant, which means it's
not active on the skin and there are no symptoms. However, even if your body does not sense an outbreak, there
is a risk that the virus may be actively replicating—this is called viral shedding. During asymptomatic viral
shedding, a person may not have any signs or symptoms but can still spread the genital herpes virus.
Asymptomatic viral shedding is sometimes referred to as a "silent outbreak."
While the virus is not always active during the asymptomatic phase,
it is impossible to know when it is inactive. Unfortunately, people can still pass the virus during this phase,
even when they don't have any symptoms of genital herpes. This is important to remember because no treatment can
totally prevent the spread of genital herpes. This is why people with genital herpes should always use a latex
condom or latex barriers during sex. (Please see your doctor for alternative barrier methods if you're allergic
Even though condoms have been shown to reduce transmission, they are
not always effective. While the virus cannot get through the latex condom, it is important that it covers the
infected area so as to avoid the skin-to-skin contact. It may be days, weeks, months, or years between
outbreaks. If and when the virus "wakes up" and becomes active again, you might experience symptoms of another
Unfortunately, no one can predict when another genital herpes
outbreak will occur. Outbreaks that occur after the first one are called recurrent genital herpes.
Warning Signs of a Genital Herpes Outbreak