Signs and Symptoms of Herpes Simplex Infections

Primary infections are usually severe and are often accompanied by painful, small, fluid-filled blisters; fever; and flu-like symptoms. The blisters may spread extensively. Primary infection may last 2 to 3 weeks.

Recurrent episodes usually begin with itching, tingling, or burning at the site of infection. A red bump or cluster of bumps then form on the skin and rapidly progress to fluid- or pus-filled blisters. After a few days, scabs form and the lesions heal usually within 8 days.

About one-half of men experience a recurrence within 4 months, and one-half of women experience a recurrence within 8 months. In time, the severity, duration, and frequency of symptoms usually decrease.

There are various potential triggers of HSV such as stress, sunlight, changing hormone levels, and illness.

The disease is highly contagious when sores are present. Patients have been known to infect themselves in a new location by touching an active herpes sore and then touching an area of broken skin. Pregnant women can pass the virus to their infants during birth.

Herpes Simplex Viruses Diagnosis

The most reliable diagnostic method to identify a herpes simplex infection is viral culture. The doctor swabs the base of a blister and submits it to the lab for identification. A rapid diagnosis can be made by taking a scraping of the debris at the base of the blister and examining it under a microscope using a special stain (called a Tzanck preparation). A blood test can indicate prior exposure to one or both herpes simplex viruses.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Aug 2000

Last Modified: 21 Sep 2015