How Long After Contact With Herpes Simplex Will It Take Before I Get Symptoms?

After you are infected with the herpes simplex virus (HSV), you won't immediately know this has occurred. It usually takes between 2 to 20 days before any outbreaks develop and sometimes they don't occur until you are infected again.

The First Symptoms

After initial contact with a person who is infected with HSV, you may develop the following symptoms after the 2 to 20 day period:

  • Itchy burning sensations on an area of your skin
  • Group of blisters on a red base

Studies show that the first outbreak of HSV is the worst for those who are just contracting the virus. This is so because the immune system is being introduced to foreign bacteria.

What areas of the Body does the Symptoms Occur?

There are two cases of the herpes virus, type one and type two. The type one herpes virus causes outbreaks to occur in areas above the waist. These can come in the form of cold sores around the mouth or on your lips. It can also elicit outbreaks on your face and other parts of the body above the waist. Type two herpes causes outbreaks below the waist. In most instances it will appear as genital herpes. It can also form on the thighs, buttocks or anus. But it can form on any part of the body below the waist.

Other Symptoms to Look Out For

Besides the group of itchy blisters, the following symptoms can also occur:

  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Painful inflamed blisters developing around the area infected
  • Vaginal or penis discharge
  • Lower back pain
  • Fever
  • Burning sensations in the genital area

Sometimes you will experience prodrome, where you feel the symptoms before the outbreak occurs. When this happens the blisters normally appear within hours or days.


Outbreaks that come back are usually caused by stress or other instances that can cause the immune system to weaken, such as illnesses and surgery. Research shows that 50% of people with type one herpes experience recurring outbreaks while 80% of those with type two herpes experience outbreak recurrences. Some experience four outbreaks a year (when you are at your most vulnerable). The herpes virus infects areas of the body that are moist, such as the mouth, genitals and anus - there they lie dormant until activated by deficiency in the immune system. There are times when subtle recurrences will take place in areas such as the penis, vagina, anus, thighs or buttocks (these areas heal in a matter of days).

The signs of recurring outbreaks include the following:

  • Breaks or irregularities in your skin, such as cuts, a red bump or rash
  • The outbreak heals faster than the first one
  • Small blisters or sores that form a crust around the genitals area and thighs

Cycle of the Herpes Simplex Virus

After infected with HSV, you will experience the following cycle:

  • Inflammation, swelling or redness - can be itchy (sometimes doesn't form into blisters
  • Blisters - Fluid filled little red bumps.
  • Ulcers - After the blisters appear, the skin will break, causing little round wet looking ulcers that leak white or clear fluid
  • Crust - This is the period where the blisters and ulcers turn into scabs. This is the beginning of the healing process
  • Healed - You are only "healed" once new skin is formed. The virus can still be transmitted during and before the scabby phase.


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