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How Long Does A Herpes Outbreak Last?

Medically reviewed on Nov 17, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Living with genital herpes can be frustrating, as outbreaks require abstinence from sex and other activities until they settle. For this reason, you may wonder, how long does a herpes outbreak last?

First-time herpes outbreaks are typically the longest lasting, with remission occurring between 2 to 3 weeks after onset. [1]

Though genital herpes is a lifelong illness, the good news is that outbreak durations tend to shorten considerably with time and proper treatment.[1] Below, we’ll map some guidelines to help you or a partner minimize acute discomfort and manage herpes outbreak symptoms.

Herpes Outbreak Signs And Symptoms

If you’ve been diagnosed with a genital herpes infection, know that the first outbreak after transmission is usually the most severe.1 That said, genital herpes frequently presents with no symptoms at all, making regular sexual health testing a crucial component of proper diagnosis and care.

With time, some people notice changes in their physical health that signal that a herpes outbreak is coming. The most commonly reported genital herpes symptoms include [1]:

  • Tingling or shooting pains in the lower body and/or genitals[2]
  • Burning, tingling, or discomfort in the affected area (where sores later develop)
  • Pain or discomfort during urination

The most noticeable sign of an active herpes outbreak is the presence of vesicles (sores or lesions) and discomfort in the affected area. During herpes outbreaks, sores or lesions may appear on or inside the [2]:

  • Urethra
  • Penis
  • Scrotum
  • Vagina
  • Vulva
  • Cervix
  • Anus
  • Rectum
  • Buttocks
  • Mouth

Be sure to identify genital herpes vs. pimples in these areas, as they can be confused. In addition to genital lesions and discomfort, people who have recently contracted herpes may experience flu-like symptoms like a fever, body chills, and headaches. It’s common for herpes virus outbreaks to recur several times within the first year when outbreak frequency is usually at its highest. [1]

Can I Have Sex During A Herpes Outbreak?

It’s a good idea to abstain from any sexual activity during a herpes outbreak. This includes:

  • Anal sex
  • Vaginal sex
  • Oral sex
  • Kissing

Condoms and barrier methods of contraception are very important to use when having sex, even if you don’t currently have an active outbreak.3 Equally important is communicating your condition to all of your sexual partners so they can be fully informed when making decisions regarding intimate activities.[3]

Treating Genital Herpes: Outbreaks And Long-Term Management

While genital herpes is a chronic sexually transmitted infection (STI), proper medication and management can significantly minimize the severity and frequency of outbreaks over a person’s life. [1]

Genital herpes is typically treated in one of two ways [4]:

  • Episodic treatment – Episodic treatments for herpes are administered during an outbreak, especially in the first outbreak following infection. Effective medications commonly prescribed include [5]:
    • Acyclovir
    • Famciclovir
    • Valacyclovir
  • Regimens may be prescribed for periods between 1 to 5 days, with dosages depending on your prescription. To minimize genital herpes symptoms and to help the virus remit, it’s important to follow your prescription precisely and to take the medication as directed.
  • Suppressive therapy – Healthcare providers may recommend suppressive antiviral medication when the infection is latent. These regimens are intended to reduce the frequency of outbreaks after you’ve contracted the infection. In some people, antiviral medication can reduce the number of outbreaks in a person’s lifetime by as much as 90%.[1]

Antiviral regimens are determined by a variety of factors, including when you contracted the infection, outbreak severity, medical history, and more.4 While developing resistance to herpes medication is rare, it’s nevertheless crucial to follow your regimen as prescribed by your healthcare provider.[1]

Private STD consultations

Fortunately, many people report a much higher quality of life and fewer outbreaks after undergoing suppressive therapy. To that end, working with your healthcare provider can significantly improve your symptoms, prevent unnecessary disruptions to your lifestyle, and help you enjoy sex with a partner sooner rather than later.

Treating An Active Genital Herpes Outbreak

Genital herpes can’t be cured, but there are several steps you can take to help find physical comfort during an outbreak:

  • Clean the area – Prioritize sexual hygiene during an outbreak, ensuring you keep affected areas clean. It’s also best to avoid chemical or fragranced products to prevent further irritation.
  • Soak your sores – Filling the tub and taking a bath can be very soothing if you have active herpes sores. About 20 minutes should be sufficient to provide relief. It’s best to avoid fragrances or other bath products to reduce the likelihood of irritating lesions. [1]
  • Skip form-fitting clothing – Tight clothing can directly aggravate active herpes sores and the surrounding area. If you exercise, opt for loose-fitting bottoms to reduce friction and promote airflow.
  • Try over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers – Simple OTC painkillers like ibuprofen can help alleviate any pain you feel around the affected area.
  • Identify stressors – Certain occasions and life circumstances can more readily prompt a herpes outbreak. Menstruation, experiencing chronic or excessive stress, and/or contracting a different type of viral or bacterial infection are all common triggers.[1]
  • Get tested regularly – Whether it’s through an appointment with your local clinic or an at-home herpes test you take on your own time, undergoing regular STI testing is a key component of protecting your health, as well as your sexual partners’ health.

Stay In The Know About Your Sexual Health Status With Everlywell

When it comes to your sexual health status, Everlywell can help keep you informed from the comfort, privacy, and convenience of your own home. That’s because each test kit from our At-Home Sexual Health Test collection can be taken discreetly at home, and you’ll quickly receive physician-reviewed results you can trust.

Or, if you’d like more information from a provider, you can meet with a clinician via Everlywell. A licensed clinician can provide STD treatment online and help you understand your options. Browse our test collection and virtual care services today.

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  1. Genital Herpes. John Hopkins Medicine. Published 2020. URL. Accessed November 1, 2023.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Genital herpes - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published 2017. URL. Accessed November 1, 2023.
  3. Information NC for B, Pike USNL of M 8600 R, MD B, Usa 20894. Genital Herpes: How Can You Prevent the Spread of Herpes in Sexual Relationships? Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2018. URL.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Herpes - STI Treatment Guidelines. CDC. Published July 22, 2021. URL. Accessed November 1, 2023.
  5. Herpes - Genital (HSV) / Adolescents and Adults. CDC. Published July 22, 2021. URL. Accessed November 1, 2023.
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