What is herpes?

There are two subtypes of herpes simplex viruses. The first type is herpes simplex type 1 (or HSV-1). HSV-1 occurs most often on or near the mouth and appears as a chancre or cold sore. The second type, herpes simplex type 2 (or HSV-2), occurs most often on or near the sex organs and is sometimes called “genital herpes.” Herpes virus is spread by close personal contact, such as kissing or sexual intercourse. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (also referred to as an “STI” or “STD”).

What are the symptoms of genital herpes?

You can have herpes and have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. The first attack of herpes usually follows this course:

  • The skin on or near the sex organ becomes inflamed. The skin might burn, itch, or be painful.
  • Blister-like sores appear on or near the sex organ.
  • Sores open, scab over, and then heal.

Symptoms that might also be present when the virus first appears include:

  • Swollen glands
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Burning when passing urine
  • Muscle aches

The first outbreak of herpes can last for several weeks. After the outbreak, the virus retreats to the nervous system, where it remains inactive (latent) until something triggers it to become active again.

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