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Most people with the herpes simplex virus (HSV) don't experience any symptoms of genital herpes when first infected. As a result, many people don't know they have the condition.
Symptoms may not appear until months or sometimes years after you're exposed to the virus.
If you experience symptoms when first infected, they usually appear four to seven days after you have been exposed to the virus. The symptoms are usually more severe first time around than in cases of recurrent infections.
The symptoms of genital herpes for the first time include:
These symptoms may last up to 20 days. However, the sores will eventually scab and heal without scarring.
Although the initial symptoms of genital herpes clear up, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in a nearby nerve. The virus may be reactivated from time to time, travelling back down the nerve to your skin and causing recurrent outbreaks.
Symptoms of a recurrent outbreak may include:
Recurrent outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe. This is because your body has produced protective antibodies (proteins that fight infection) in reaction to the previous infection. Your body now recognises the virus and mounts a response that is able to fight HSV more effectively.
Over time, you should find any recurrent genital herpes infections become less frequent and less severe.
Read more about the causes of genital herpes.