The First Herpes Outbreak: What It’s Like & How Long it Lasts

As an amazon associate, this site may earn from qualifying purchases.

Are you going through your first herpes outbreak, or just wondering if you are? Herpes is so common that some statistics estimate one in five Americans has it. Yet 85% or more affected people remain unaware of their condition. Some have no symptoms at all. But for those who do, the first herpes outbreak is usually the most severe. Read on for the details you need.

bandaids image for outbreaks questions

Herpes Simplex Virus: The Basics First

Before jumping into the details, let’s first discuss some basics.

Herpes infection is due to a virus called the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). Its two types are HSV1 and HSV2. While HSV2 is more notorious for genital herpes outbreaks, and HSV1 is commonly known for cold sores of the mouth, both can cause the sexually transmitted infection.

HSV2 is also known for more severe symptoms and outbreaks, as well as a greater number of them. Where a person might get four to five outbreaks of genital herpes with HSV2, that number could be one to two outbreaks per year with genital herpes from HSV1.

Not to worry — many people have fewer outbreaks as time goes on, or even stop having them entirely.

Keep in mind, however, that this is highly personal. Different people can expect different outcomes, but everyone can take steps to manage them.

How Do You Get Herpes?

You can get herpes from skin-to-skin contact with a person who is having an active outbreak. It can also be spread when there is no active outbreak, if the virus is in a “shedding” period. This is known as asymptomatic viral shedding.

For genital herpes, it’s usually spread through sexual contact. Oral herpes is often acquired from simple acts of sharing straws, chewing gum, or affectionate kisses.

Penetrative sex doesn’t have to take place to get herpes. Oral herpes can be passed from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex.

Additionally, condoms don’t always prevent infection. They might help somewhat, but not enough. Since a condom only covers the penis shaft, other skin surfaces can come into contact and spread the virus.

How Soon Will I Get My First Outbreak?

If you’ve come into contact with the virus but haven’t had an outbreak, there’s no absolutely certain answer.

A newly infected person will typically have their first outbreak two weeks after contact. However, it can begin within hours of contact — or even take a couple of years.

In as many as half of people having primary outbreaks, there are no clinically evident symptoms. In the rest, the symptoms may appear anytime between a few hours to weeks after contact. However, in most, the symptoms start during the first 24 hours of contact. (Read more about herpes that lies dormant.)

What Are the Symptoms?

If you think you might have contracted an STI (STD), see your doctor. cannot provide diagnosis and you shouldn’t attempt to diagnose yourself. You can also get tested by ordering an STD test online and then having it done confidentially near you.

Generally speaking, here is what you might expect during your first outbreak:

Symptoms during the first 24 hours

During this interval, you might remain symptom-free. However, you might experience symptoms like a strange tingling, pain, itching, and swelling of the affected area.

  • A first herpes outbreak is considered to be the most severe.
  • It can be accompanied by fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and a tingling sensation or pain in the affected area.

Symptoms lasting hours to days

During this stage, you might have prodromal symptoms — the ones that means an outbreak is coming. Those might include:

  • General aches and pains
  • Fever, which may be as high as 102-103 degrees F
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Loss of appetite
  • A general feeling of being unwell
  • Headache
  • Swelling of lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small pea-sized structures that are present in your groin, axilla, and areas of the neck. During your first herpes outbreak, you might experience swelling of lymph nodes in your groin area.

Symptoms lasting days to weeks

Once you’re through the initial stages of infection, you might then start to see blisters characteristic of HSV. The blisters have an inflamed and red base. They last several days, crust, and heal without leaving scars.

  • Herpes lesions look like clusters of blisters that dry up and scab off.
  • Some people don’t get the blisters, or the blisters are internal, such as on the cervix.

New lesions might continue to form for up to 10 days. During the first outbreak, the herpes lesions might even last for two to six weeks.

Herpes Symptoms in Men and Women

In males, the vesicles appear on the shaft of penis. In both sexes, the blisters could also appear around the anus, thighs, and buttocks.

In women, lesions from herpes symptoms usually appear on the area surrounding their vagina. For unknown reasons, the symptoms are severer and last longer in women compared to men. In women, the lesions might involve the inside of genital tract (cervix) and might cause ulceration. Also, the chances of complications are higher in women compared to men. Women might also experience urinary symptoms and might experience complications involving the brain (meningitis), although this is extremely rare. (See: Can I have kids if I have herpes?)

Don’t Mistake These For Herpes:

Sometimes the blisters associated with other illnesses can be mistaken for herpes:

  1. Syphilis chancres or blisters;
  2. the bacterial disease impetigo; or
  3. genital warts associated with HPV.

How to Manage the First Outbreak?

They can be extremely painful, and it’s important to see a doctor in case you need a prescription like Valocyclovir or Acyclovir. The sooner you start taking it, the more likely you are to curb the outbreak.

Unfortunately, no drug cures the condition. However, if you receive anti-viral medications promptly, you might experience the following benefits:

  • Speedy recovery
  • Fewer chances of complications
  • Fewer chances of future outbreaks
  • A decrease in the severity of symptoms

Here are a few more self-care tips on how to deal with the symptoms:

  • Consider taking an over-the-counter pain-killer like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches and fever.
  • Apply cold compresses on the area. This will help with the burning, inflammation, and itching.
  • Clean the sores regularly. This will speed the recovery.

Read more about pain relief for outbreaks here, and topical remedies here.

To sum up, the first herpes outbreak can be challenging to deal with, especially if you are experimenting with your sexuality. However, proper self-care and promptly seeking expert help can ensure speedy recovery.

Where Can I Get Tested for Herpes?

To get a private herpes test, you can use a service that doesn’t accept insurance so that no one else is notified that you were tested. This is up to you, since you can also have your doctor test you with a blood test or a swab. Be warned, though, that for swabs to be accurate they need to be done within 24-48 hours at most of a blister forming.

You can use this website for a 100% confidential STD test that you order online and then have done in a lab of your choice near you. The site says it will only take a few minutes to do so you can get peace of mind fast and privately.