Because each person reacts to herpes simplex 1 virus or herpes simplex 2 virus that causes genital herpes differently, it's impossible to gauge when herpes will appear. Some people go for months, even years, before they experience an outbreak. However, the Centers for Disease Control states that most people who experience a primary outbreak do so within two weeks of being infected with HSV-2 or HSV-1. The primary outbreak is typically the toughest to get through, and many people experience full-body symptoms before lesions appear, such as headache, aching joints, tender glands in the groin area and tingling in the skin where lesions will appear. Primary outbreaks generally last from two to four weeks; often a second cluster of lesions appear just as the first are healing.
Mayo Clinic experts warn that up to 90 percent of people infected with HSV are unaware. Their symptoms are so mild that they go undetected. Lesions during a non-primary outbreak often are mistaken for insect bites, ingrown hairs, allergic reaction to condoms or spermicide or chafing from sex, as the clusters of blisters are very small and sometimes symptoms are nonexistent. Most people don't know they've acquired genital herpes because they have had the oral form of herpes caused by HSV-1, also called a fever blister or cold sore, at some point during childhood. The HSV-1 virus causes antibodies to form that combat other HSV intruders, including the HSV-2 that typically causes genital herpes.
Other Herpes Facts
People who experience primary outbreaks generally can expect to get five to six more outbreaks in the coming year, says the Center for Disease Control. However, these outbreaks will be less severe and shorter in duration. Herpes infections are extremely common, found in 1:4 women and 1:8 men. While most genital herpes cases are caused by HSV-2 that is passed from an infected sexual partner to an uninfected sexual partner through sexual intercourse, around 10 percent is caused by HSV-1, when someone with oral herpes performs oral sex on an uninfected partner. Genital herpes is most likely to be passed on when an infected sexual partner has no symptoms and the virus is asymptomatically shedding, escaping through minute breaks in the skin tissue. This occurs around 70 percent of the time, according to Mayo Clinic experts.