How Long Do Herpes Outbreaks Last

Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. It has two known types: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

Genital herpes outbreaks are normally caused by the type 2 virus while the type 1 virus typically manifests itself as cold sores around the mouth and lips. However, HSV-1 can also manifest in the form of genital herpes if there are oral to genital contact.

Cycle And Duration Of A Herpes Outbreak (Primary And Recurrent)

When an individual is first infected with herpes and exhibit active symptoms, the duration of the primary outbreak will be the worst and most painful and can take 3 to 6 weeks to resolve. Subsequent recurrent outbreaks will be less severe, typically lasting 3 to 14 days and the frequency will become farther and farther apart with each recurring attack.

A typical cycle and duration of a herpes outbreak may look like the following:

  1. Prodromal symptoms of mild tingling of the skin, itching, inflammation or pain may manifest after 3 to 14 days after the virus is transmitted. Generalized symptoms of fever, headaches, muscle aches, swollen lymph node in the groin as well as unusual vaginal discharge in women may also show up.

  2. Next, small red bumps, watery blisters or small fluid lesions will start to form within a matter of hours after the prodromal symptoms. These blisters will show up in or around the mouth for individuals with oral herpes. Symptoms of genital herpes will show up around the genital, thighs, buttocks or around the anus.

  3. 24 to 48 hours later, the blisters burst open, oozing a clear to milky fluid and leaving open sores and ulcers with a yellowish membrane that are painful to touch.

  4. Approximately over the next 10 days, the ulcers will then dry, scab over and heal without any treatment or scarring. If one is experiencing a primary outbreak, the recovery progress may take weeks.

In general, the duration of a primary outbreak will be longer in women than men as well as the frequency of having recurring attacks due to factors such as menstruation, hormonal changes and pregnancy that may “re-activate” the virus.

It is important to point out that not all infected individuals may realise that they have an active infection as sometimes the outbreak can be quite mild with symptoms like small cuts in the skin or symptoms quite inconspicuous to be noticed on causal inspection. In some reported cases, the virus can stay latent after infection for weeks and months until it is “triggered” by some form of physical, emotional, physiological stress, or a change in diet habits. For more information on what causes herpes outbreaks, read this post…

Whether one is having primary or recurring outbreaks, the herpes virus is most contagious starting from one day before the tingling stage to the scabbing stage. During this period, it is best to abstain from any form of sexual contact.

Even after the sores heals and disappear, the virus still remains in the body and one need to realise that it is still possible to transmit the infection to another sex partner even when there are no visible outbreak symptoms.

How Long Do Herpes Outbreaks Last With Medication?

Depending on the health of the patient and the type of outbreaks (primary or recurrent), untreated outbreaks can last from 1 to 6 weeks. While the symptoms will heal by itself, however with the use of antiviral medications, they can significantly decrease the recovery time for a herpes outbreak in addition to decreasing the occurrence of future outbreaks.

With medication, outbreaks typically last less than a week. Daily consumption of antiviral herpes medication as a form of suppressive therapy can also aid to reduce recurring outbreaks by at least 70%  to 80% per year.

Recurrent Herpes Outbreaks – How Long Do They Last?

Statistically, 8 out of every 10 people (for both sexes) who have a primary outbreak will also go on to have a recurrent attack within the first 6 months after the first outbreak. The average amount of recurrent outbreaks is approximately 2 to 3 times annually with each recurring outbreak lasting 3 to 14 days. A herpes infection may be considered chronic if outbreaks occur more than 5 times a year.

The good news is that with each outbreaks, the attacks get less severe than the one that precedes it. The symptoms will be milder with less itching and with no fever or pain. The frequency of outbreaks will also typically diminishes with time. There are patients who have had herpes for a long period of time that reported that they can sometimes go by years without having another episode of herpes outbreak.

Can Herpes Outbreaks Be Prevented?

Herpes outbreaks have a high risk of being spread through frequent sexual contact. These herpes outbreaks last longer if one continues to aggravate the condition. It is recommended that one abstain from sexual contact during an outbreak or if you suspect the onset of an outbreak.

The use of medication is the best way to lessen the effects of the virus once it has been contracted. Consult with your doctor about which medication(s) will work best for you.

Through the help of herpes medication, the frequency of a herpes outbreak can be controlled as long as one is diligent in taking the medication and adheres to their prescribed treatment plan. The disease cannot be cured; therefore the best treatment is always prevention. For those who have contracted the virus and must live with it, medication offers the best long term treatment.


  1. Mer says

    Hello I just came across this forum. I was recently diagnosed with HSV-2 this past December. The first breakout was terrible, could barely walk so I went to urgent care and they swabbed the sores. They prescribed me aclyvor and he dried up the breakout within a few days. The following month I experienced my second breakout which was nothing compared to the first. The following month (February) I experienced another, maybe one or two bumps so I called my gyno and set up an appt. she swabbed the sore and said it came back as HSV-2 and put me on valtrex for three months. The first two months were fine on the valtrex, besides the interaction the drug had with alcohol which turned my neck, face, and arms red periodically. I stopped taking the valtrex in June because by the third month the drug was making me feel very odd and caused random pain throughout my body. As soon as I stopped taking it the pain went away, but I immediately had another breakout. Since June, I have had two breakouts, currently one now with one small bump. I am 20 years old and drink 2-3 days a week. I exercise almost everyday. Is it because of these two factors that I am having recurring breakouts? Should I just bare through this time and hope as time goes by my problem won’t be so recurrent? Thoughts please!!

    • Nicole says

      Hello I have just found out I have it and I had my first breakout 3 days ago. There are several :( bumps and it Itches but that’s it. Was your first like this and your next outbreaks were only 1-2 bumps?

    • Benana says


      It gets better over time. Your body will start to build up anti-bodies that fight against it and your outbreaks will come less and less. If you notice there’s already a significant reduction in the form of outbreaks, the frequency will decrease as well. Now being a women and having this disease is the hardest part because there are so many factors that plays into our outbreaks and you’ll have to find the best regimen for yourself because no 2 people are alike. Try the generic brand of Valtrex which is Acyclovir or talk to your doctor about your dosage amount and frequency that you take it, maybe you need to take a low dosage through out the day instead of a high dosage once or twice a day. Also, I wouldn’t reduce your workout regimen as your body and the disease will learn to work together over time however the liquor may be an issue, lol. You may need to drink less or change what you drink. Unfortunately the first year of this is the hardest part because you have to learn how to handle your body with the disease…but it gets easier. Talking to your doctor about the dosage is the first step – so you won’t feel sick and you can play around with all the factors once you’ve gotten a dosage that will keep your outbreaks at bay.

      Good luck…

  2. concerned says

    Hello, I am 24 years old, I have had this disease for 10 years now. It was forced upon me but anyway, I keep reading that the 1st breakout is horrible and they get better and better. Well my 1st one was 1 blister and It went away in a week and didn’t hurt unless it got touched. I am currently having a breakout and have been for 1 month now even on the meds. This is the worst one I have ever had. Lost of big lesions that are VERY itchy and painful. The pain is not so bad after I started the meds. But I find myself going to the bathroom to scratch it a lot because I cant stand it. I have a job where I am sitting on the phone all day so it is very difficult. I am also a mother of three and very busy. I was drinking quite a bit for a week as well and after I stopped that is when it started. I just don’t understand why it wont go away! I am sick of it already and i’m out of meds and have been for a few days. I couldn’t afford them until payday tomorrow. So my question is this, Is it me scratching it all the time that is causing it to stay longer? What can I do differently to get this to go away? I am desperate right now to get rid of this. If anyone has any good advise please respond, thank and good luck to all of you dealing with this.

    • Katie says

      I have only had 2 outbreaks as I was only diagnosed 2 months ago, but itching does make it worse. My first outbreak was sooo awful. I couldn’t walk right, I would cry my eyes out just to urinate because the pain was so terrible, I literally just wanted to die. My second outbreak started as one small patch & cleared up in 2 days. I felt itchy so I started scratching really bad as those sores were almost cleared & now I have another patch & its so bad. No pain, just itch & more irritated sores. I noticed this with the first outbreak. I have also read a lot of places that itching makes it worse. Just my thoughts, good luck!

  3. Lauren says

    Hey everyone this may help.. Just had my first outbreak-but I am a herbalist and health food nut. It was very mild and I think this is why. When I found out what I was dealing with I made a salve from Shea butter, coconut oil, tea tree oil, and bee propolis extract (all pure organic non GMO) to apply directly to the 2 lesions I had. You can also take herbal supplements orally that will prevent and lessen outbreaks by strengthening your immune system as well, I take echinacea, goldenseal, astragalus root, and bee propolis as well as homeopathic sulphur orally. This in addition to a 10 day regimen of valtrex and ointment prescribed by my dr. (I should also note that I had slacked on my herbs and supplements for like a week and that’s when the outbreak happened) from the initial onset to healing lasted about 7 days, significantly shorter than what I’m reading the usual first outbreak is. Just remember that not all herbs and supplements are created equal try to make sure u buy from a reputable place.

  4. Zacha says

    I have HSV-2 for 3 years now. I use Baby Powder after a nice shower (SHOWER) not a bath since it can spread it to other areas in your body. Dry up the area with a blowdryer and then put the baby powder (the one that has cornstarch) in the area. You will feel relief for a few hours, fresh and clean. There are baby powders that has hint of mint that is a plus.

    Keep in mind than maintaining the area clean and dry will help you fell more comfortable. For girls: Do not use tight underwear or pads cause it scratch it and it will feel very painful. And try (if you have the privacy in your own) to sleep with no underwear and legs wide open. These has really help.

    3 YEARS with HSV2 and only 3 outbreaks! knock on wood! !!!

  5. Shayla says

    I’ve had herpes for about 3 years now, I’ve had mild attacks that have been itchy but nothing so bad. But I am currently going through the worst pain I have ever experienced. I am however confused. Does this mean this is my first proper outbreak as it is so painful and I have bad sores that are obvious to see? Because I thought the first one should be the worst, but I’ve experienced light outbreaks before.

  6. Logan says

    I am currently going through my first outbreak and it is HORRIBLE! I cant do anything, all I do is lay in bed and hope the pain goes away. I was started on acyclovir a day ago but I am afraid the pain wont go away. I am a college student and I am falling behind in my classes and my other extracurricular activities. I also seem to have it in my throat so I cant eat and I hate drinking anything since it is so painful to urinate. I just really dont know what I need to do for the pain. And I fear I will have to be hospitalized because I dont eat or drink much.
    Does anyone have any advice?

    • Bhatia says

      Well Logan,

      It will not ‘go away’, come what may.

      It will dictate the course of what you will become, what you do and what you stand for, all through your existence.

      I clearly recall having got this virus as a very small child through abuse by a neighbor (who died before he was 20, thank god).. and have been wondering what God meant by planning this for me. No answers from Him yet, my friend.

      I know it sounds crazy to ask a young person to do these things – but always stay alert to signs and symptoms Prior to a full-blown episode so that if possible you can prevent them from happening – that is your best cure, really. I recall seeing my teen and young years through a cloud of searing, stinging pain near my lip/nose and around the lower abdomen et al.

      Stay away from ‘too much’ of Anything (a) stress (b) alcohol (c) direct sun or very high altitudes (d) fatigue or intensity in Anything (e) red meat if possible (f) strictly no multiple sexual partners (celibacy may not be a bad idea, if you want to protect your self-respect entirely or not feel guilty of infecting any one else).. and recalibrate what you want from your life. I don’t know a single Olympian sportsperson who may have had this – so that tells a story.

      On the other hand, I am nearly 50 and have a decently successful legal practice.

      So there is Life post herpes. Albeit ‘adjusted’. My advice is to just dig deep and face this virus with as much equanimity and balance you can muster.

      God Bless.

  7. Britnee says

    Well I am 26 years old and have had issues with boils well most of my life, so I thought that’s all this was until the pain became so unbearable I had my partner look and see what it was. When his eyes got big I knew right then that my ex had given me something. I have genital herpes and I don’t know how to handle it at all. The pain is so bad that I cry when I move. I can’t lay a certain way. I can’t walk much. Now its starting to itch to an extreme. Its just all very unbearable. I feel so bad. I feel depressed. I hurt constantly. I can’t pee sitting regular because of pee hits it I scream in pain. I have no health insurance so I don’t know what to do. I can’t handle this pain anymore.

    • Girl88 says

      I’m just having my first break out now and it’s so painful! I went to the doctor on the third day of extreme pain due to starting a new job on the first day and she told me it was one of the worst cases she’d seen in a long time.
      I’ve been prescribed 10 days of anti viral medication and some “strong” painkillers which don’t seem to be working at all. Make sure you get some ‘Ural’ sachets. They are a urinary alkaliser so they stop your pee from burning when it touches the wounds. I also keep a bowl of salt water with some gauze next to the toilet to use as a wash and I use the gauze to pour water on to the area while I pee as well!
      I’ve been putting creams like healing creams, sudocrem on the area but I’m not sure it’s helping and one of the antiseptic creams I used made me cry for about an hour!

  8. Bri says

    I am a 21 year old girl with HSV2 I found out when I had my first outbreak at 19 years old and it was the worst feeling I have ever experienced in my life. Even though the bumps were so small, barley visible besides one, when I first got tested I was put on acyclovir, (I was still so very much in denial thinking this could not possibly be true) I took it and shortly after my bumps healed (never have they scabbed) and I told myself that I did not have this disease and that the doctor was wrong, fearing the changes my body was going through. I was extremely scared (and still am) but a few days ago I felt discomfort in my area, so now I have comprehended that this is real. BUT I have no idea where to start with this for I really know nothing about it since I made myself believe that I don’t actually have it. I need to know what triggers these outbreaks (besides stress & sex) and how to prevent them OTHER than medication, I have extremely small bumps on the inside of my vagina, maybe 3 or 4, and 1 that’s barley noticeable that’s just more red and inflamed than the others, they sting, itch, and tingle. And I have no idea what to do and have no one I can tell this to, I’m totally scared to go see a doctor again. Anyone have any advice for me? I’m desperate. And alone with this…Good luck to you all.

  9. says

    Friday I had a very sore vagina and by Saturday evening I had loads of little lumps, it was painful to walk, sit.. Everything! I went to the doctors yesterday and they did swabs and gave me some antibiotics as they thinks it’s herpes. I’ve taken one full day of my tablets and I’m on my second now. This is my first ever outbreak and it’s the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced! It hurts so much to wee that it reduces me to tears everytime which means I’m rarly drinking anything, only when I take my tablets! I’ve had to take time off work today and was wondering how long it takes for this to go away. It’s very very itchy but my main concern is how much it hurts to wee??

  10. s says

    I first had an outbreak 15 years ago. I had recurrent out breaks the 1st 2 yrs. It was embarrassing and awful. Then the frequency continued to diminish. Now I have out breaks only once every several years and they’re nothing more than a little itch. No bumps etc. Alcohol and sugar make it dramatically worse!!!! Not to fear, and I stay away from meds (after the 1st couple yrs). Any antibiotic or med will lower your immunity.

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