There are various strains of the herpes virus, but the most common and uncomfortable one is herpes simplex. It's an incurable viral infection that can affect the genitals as well as the mucous membranes on and around the mouth. Herpes simplex type 1 causes outbreaks of blisters around the mouth known as cold sores, while herpes simplex type 2, known as genital herpes, can cause painful and sometimes dangerous outbreaks on and around the genital area.

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How is it spread?

People contract genital herpes through sexual contact with an infected person. Sexual contact can be defined as oral, vaginal or anal sex. Most people pick up cold sores as children by coming into direct contact with a person displaying active symptoms, either through kissing or sharing a toothbrush for example. Some people can contract cold sores by performing oral sex on a person who is experiencing an outbreak of genital herpes.

What are the herpes symptoms?

Cold sores are the less serious of the two infections, but can still be uncomfortable. Genital herpes symptoms are the most severe and often tend to cause significant disruption to a sufferers life.

Herpes simplex type 1 – Cold sores

A cold sore infection can manifest itself in different ways in children and adults. In both cases, an outbreak can take between seven to 14 days to completely go away. However, the virus will still be present in the system and can come back at a later date. A primary infection in children usually causes the following herpes symptoms in children:

  • swollen and irritated gums with small, painful sores in and around the mouth
  • sore throat
  • swollen glands
  • overproduction of saliva
  • fever
  • dehydration
  • nausea
  • headaches

The primary infection could cause the following herpes symptoms in adults:

  • sore throat and swollen tonsils
  • glandular fever
  • halitosis (bad breath)
  • painful sores inside and around the mouth that develop into ulcers

After the first outbreak, there may be sporadic outbreaks throughout a person's life, but these usually tend to be milder than those of the primary infection. However, antiviral medications are available to people who experience regular painful herpes symptoms and outbreaks.

Herpes simplex type 2 – Genital herpes

When experiencing an outbreak for the first time, most people tend to notice the following symptoms, which can last for up to 20 days:

  • painful red blisters around the genitals, rectum, thighs and/or buttocks that burst and leave open sores
  • pain when urinating, experienced by both men and women
  • a high temperature
  • feeling of malaise
  • blisters and ulcers on the cervix (women)
  • vaginal discharge (women)

After the first outbreak the following herpes symptoms may occur for around ten days:

  • a tingling, burning or itching sensation around your genitals right before blisters appear
  • painful red blisters around the genitals, rectum, thighs and/or buttocks that burst and leave open sores
  • blisters and ulcers on the cervix (women)

Is there anything I can take to prevent or stop an outbreak?

Although genital herpes and cold sores can never fully be removed from the body, both conditions can be treated by the same types of anti-viral treatments, which can either be taken to prevent an outbreak or to cut down recovery time and help relieve the severity of painful herpes symptoms.