Recurrent Genital Herpes

Dr Kathryn Basford

Medically reviewed by

Dr Kathryn Basford

Last reviewed: 26 Apr 2022

Recurrent genital herpes outbreaks are when you have repeated episodes of genital herpes symptoms. Genital herpes outbreaks can cause pain and discomfort, as well as being inconvenient. Let’s look at what causes recurrent genital herpes outbreaks, and what you can do to help prevent them.


What are herpes recurrences?

Herpes recurrences (also called genital herpes outbreaks) are when the virus that causes herpes becomes reactivated. This leads to symptoms of genital herpes.

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. Genital herpes is usually caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2 (HSV-1 or HSV-2). HSV-1 also causes oral herpes (cold sores).

Genital herpes is spread through close sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. The most common sign of genital herpes is small blisters (herpes sores) that develop in the genital area (vagina, penis or anus). After a few days, the blisters fill with fluid which then burst. The burst blisters develop into ulcers or lesions which can be painful. Over time, the ulcers will scab over and eventually heal. During a first outbreak of genital herpes, you may also have flu-like symptoms including fever and tiredness.

After an initial outbreak, the herpes simplex virus remains dormant in your nervous system. At some point in the future, the virus can become reactivated. The virus moves from the nervous system to your skin, where it can cause symptoms again. Recurrent genital herpes outbreaks can cause herpes sores to develop but do not usually cause flu-like symptoms.

Some people have no further genital herpes outbreaks after the first one. Others may experience a few, or many outbreaks. For most people, genital herpes recurrences will become less severe over time. Later genital herpes outbreaks also usually last for less time. Eventually, you will usually stop having genital herpes outbreaks.

How long does a recurrent herpes outbreak last?

A first herpes outbreak typically lasts 10 days or a couple of weeks, but it depends on your personal health at the time.

After your first genital herpes infection, recurrent herpes outbreaks will usually last for a shorter length of time. You might only notice a tingling feeling as if herpes blisters are about to develop, but with no further symptoms. Herpes outbreaks can eventually become rare occurrences, and only come up after being triggered by something, such as stress.

How often do herpes outbreaks occur?

How often herpes outbreaks occur will depend on what might trigger them and your individual health status at the time. You may have several herpes outbreaks in a year or sometimes herpes outbreaks can come close together.

In other cases, herpes outbreaks may not happen very often. You may not have a herpes outbreak until months or even years after the first infection. You may have just a single genital herpes outbreak and then no further symptoms.

How to prevent genital herpes recurrence

If you have had multiple genital herpes outbreaks and you are finding the symptoms difficult, you may be able to take treatment to prevent further genital herpes recurrence.

There are 3 antiviral medicines available to treat genital herpes: Aciclovir, Valaciclovir and Famciclovir.

To treat a genital herpes outbreak, these antiviral medicines are usually taken for between 1 and 5 days.

If you’ve had 6 or more genital herpes outbreaks in a year, you may be able to take antiviral medication to help prevent future outbreaks. To prevent genital herpes recurrence, you may need to take antiviral medication at a different dose and for a longer period of time. Fill in the Asda Online Doctor questionnaire and one of our doctors will advise if this is suitable for you.

You may be able to recognise things that trigger an outbreak of genital herpes. Factors thought to be possible triggers of genital herpes outbreaks include:

  • stress
  • illness
  • sex
  • surgery
  • hormonal changes, for example menstruation (having a period)
  • sunlight or using sunbeds (UV light)
  • having a weakened immune system (due to illness or medication)
  • smoking
  • drinking alcohol
  • wearing tight clothing or non breathable fabrics, such as nylon

If you’re aware of certain things that trigger your outbreaks of genital herpes, you may want to try and avoid them.

Medically reviewed by:
Dr Kathryn Basford

Dr Kathryn Basford is a qualified GP who works as a GP in London, as well as with ZAVA. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training through Whipps Cross Hospital in London.

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Article created: 26 Apr 2022

Last reviewed: 26 Apr 2022

(Reviews are for ZAVA UK)

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