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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.