According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one out of six Americans between the ages of 14 and 49 is infected with genital herpes. Many, however, are not aware they have the infection since identifiable symptoms do not occur with each person. When symptoms do appear with a first genital herpes episode, they typically remain for up to 4 weeks and may reappear as outbreaks several times throughout the first year of infection.
A characteristic symptom of a first genital herpes episode is the appearance of small, red, fluid-filled bumps near the vagina, penis, anus, buttocks or urinary tract. Women may develop these bumps on the cervix. Within a few days, the bumps release their fluid and become open lesions that then scab over and heal. According to the Mayo Clinic, many individuals infected with genital herpes may never develop these bumps and lesions again, while others continue to suffer from them at every outbreak for decades.
After the fluid-filled bumps have burst and become open lesions, the person may experience a painful, burning sensation while urinating. This is especially true when the lesions are located in or near the urinary tract: near the urethral opening for women and within the urethra itself, located inside the penis, for men.
During a first genital herpes episode, the infected person will often feel as if they are coming down with the flu. They may have headaches, a fever, muscle aches and swollen groin lymph nodes. This reaction is the body’s response to the invasion of the genital herpes virus, which will travel throughout the individual’s system until it reaches and remains inactivated in the spinal sensory nerves. The flu-like feeling brought on by the virus may last for the duration of the first episode, as long as four weeks.
Women infected with genital herpes may notice a watery, often foul-smelling discharge during their first episode with the condition. As with the other symptoms of an initial genital herpes infection, the discharge appears within two weeks of being exposed to an already infected sexual partner.