Herpes, also known as genital herpes, is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). A herpes outbreak doesn’t always show symptoms but some people may feel unwell.
Herpes is easy to treat with antiviral medication but how long do herpes outbreaks last with medication? Genital herpes can persist for up to two weeks, although this can vary by a few days.
In this article, we take a look at the timeline of a herpes outbreak and what you can do to treat your herpes.
Table of Contents
- How Long Do Herpes Outbreaks Last With Medication?
- Timeline of a Typical Herpes Outbreak
- Signs and Symptoms of Genital Herpes
- Treatment Options for a Herpes Outbreak
- Can Genital Herpes Treatment Prevent Multiple Outbreaks?
- Genital Herpes During Pregnancy
- How to Prevent Genital Herpes?
How Long Do Herpes Outbreaks Last With Medication?
A typical herpes outbreak can last between 10 and 14 days if you treat it with medication, such as valacyclovir.
It is important to start treatment for herpes as soon as possible to avoid spreading the infection to other sexual partners.
Doctors may prescribe medication for a longer period than 10 days if you have genital herpes for the first time because the first herpes outbreak is typically more severe than subsequent episodes.
It is essential to follow the full course of the medication until the end to ensure that the infection fully clears. This can also reduce the risk of further herpes outbreaks.
Subsequent herpes outbreaks typically last a week, although this also depends on other factors, such as a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Timeline of a Typical Herpes Outbreak
A herpes outbreak always follows a similar pattern. In the first couple of days, you may start to feel a tingling sensation in the affected area. The skin may also be itchy and uncomfortable.
Between days 3 and 5, the first herpes blisters will appear and they will start to fill with pus fluid. After a week, the blisters will start to burst and the fluid will leak out. The blisters now turn into ulcers.
Between 7 and 14 days, the blisters start to scab and heal over. Within two weeks, the outbreak of genital herpes is usually resolved.
Signs and Symptoms of Genital Herpes
The very first sign you will notice with genital herpes is that you have a tingling feeling around the affected area. There may also be a slight burning or pain.
After a few days, one or more blisters will start to show. They will fill with puss and burst after a week. As the herpes heals, ulcers begin to form and then produce scabbing.
The healing process may feel itchy, painful and uncomfortable. It is important not to scratch the area as this could cause bleeding and scarring.
You may also experience a painful sensation while urinating.
Treatment Options for a Herpes Outbreak
There are a variety of different treatment options that you can use for a herpes outbreak. The most common treatment is a form of antiviral medication.
If you take antiviral medicines during the first couple of days of your herpes outbreak, then this can shorten the duration of the herpes by up to two days.
In addition, these medications can also reduce the severity of the symptoms.
For people who experience multiple herpes outbreaks a year, doctors can prescribe antiviral medication to reduce the number of outbreaks.
You can also use over-the-counter medicines, such as an anesthetic gel or paracetamol, to help you relieve individual herpes symptoms.
The gel or Vaseline can be applied to ulcers when you experience pain during urination. In order to help the ulcers heal, wash them with salty water and avoid any perfumed soaps.
You may also want to avoid sex until the ulcers have fully healed to prevent them from causing pain. Ice packs applied to the affected area can help soothe the pain.
As genital herpes is a viral infection, drinking plenty of water can help keep you hydrated and flush out any toxins.
Can Genital Herpes Treatment Prevent Multiple Outbreaks?
Studies have shown that suppressive therapy can reduce the number of multiple genital herpes outbreaks by over 90%.
If you take a small dose of anti-herpes medicine each day, then this can cut down the times that you may experience herpes.
Your doctor can advise you of individual steps and what medication to take. Once your herpes outbreaks reduce, you can gradually taper off the medication over time.
Genital Herpes During Pregnancy
Genital herpes can be transmitted to newborns, so it is essential for pregnant women to treat their herpes outbreaks as soon as possible.
If you have genital herpes before your pregnancy, then your doctor will regularly check your condition. You may also receive a longer course of antiviral medication to reduce the transmission risk.
If you have an active herpes outbreak around the time of delivering your baby, then doctors commonly recommend a C-section to ensure the baby stays safe.
How to Prevent Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) which means that you can prevent any herpes outbreaks through considerate hygiene.
In order to protect yourself and your partner from STDs, such as genital herpes, you should use latex condoms. While this does not fully guarantee protection from herpes, it reduces the risk significantly.
You may also want to avoid sex during a herpes outbreak to ensure that the infection isn’t transmitted to your partner.
Test Regularly for STDs
If you are sexually active and you have changing sexual partners, then make sure that you regularly test for sexually transmitted diseases.
Not all STDs show symptoms but getting an STD test can help to give you and your partners certainty over your sexual health.
Use Antiviral Medication for Multiple Outbreaks
If you are prone to herpes outbreaks (6 or more outbreaks per year), then you can check with your doctor if you can take antiviral medicines for a longer period of time to reduce the number of outbreaks.
Herpes usually only last for a couple of weeks but you can reduce the time of the herpes outbreak by two days if you start treating it within the first few days of the outbreak.
- Genital herpes. Mayo Clinic. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/symptoms-causes/syc-20356161
- Genital Herpes – CDC Detailed Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm
- Bonnar PE. Suppressive valacyclovir therapy to reduce genital herpes transmission: good public health policy? Mcgill J Med. 2009 Jan;12(1):39-46. PMID: 19753286; PMCID: PMC2687913.