Genital Herpes Simplex 2

People infected with genital herpes can expect an average of four to five viral outbreaks a year. This number may be higher for some people and lower for others. Many people find that over time, as their immune system builds up a resistance to the virus, their outbreaks lessen in severity and frequency.

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-2), which is highly contagious and spread via skin-to-skin contact. Certain precautions should be taken during a herpes simplex outbreak to avoid the spread of the virus. Sex, kissing, or any other form of skin-to-skin contact should be avoided until the outbreak has passed. Care should be taken to avoid touching the infected areas: the virus can travel to other parts of the body on the fingers. The eyes, mouth, nose and genitals are particularly vulnerable to the herpes virus. If infected areas or blisters are touched, thorough hand washing is recommended.

Keeping sores and lesions clean and dry is important: doing so helps prevent the possibility of secondary infections. Avoid wearing tight clothing that can rub against blisters and cause pain.

Stages of Herpes Simplex Outbreaks

People experience the active phase of HSV-2 in different ways. Some people suffer pain and intense blistering, while others are not even aware that they are having an outbreak. Most people will experience at least some of these stages:

Stage 1: Before the appearance of blisters, some people experience tingling or itching around the affected skin. Pain may be felt in the buttocks or down the thighs.

Stage 2: Blisters appear. They start as small red bumps on the infected skin, and grow into clear, fluid filled blisters.

Stage 3: The blisters burst, creating raw and painful lesions. These lesions crust over in a few days.

Stage 4: The scabs shed off, revealing healed skin beneath. After all the lesions have healed, the outbreak comes to an end.

Painkillers and Herpes Simplex

Not all people experience pain during the active phase of genital herpes, while others suffer severe pain. Traditional painkillers often do not provide much relief. The pain comes from nerve irritation, which most over-the-counter painkillers cannot treat. However, some prescription options do exist. Certain types of antidepressants and epilepsy medication have proven useful in the treatment of herpes simplex pain.

No one knows for sure what causes the dormant virus to reactivate, but certain situations do seem to trigger outbreaks in some people. Any event that suppresses the immune system can be a trigger, for instance, whether that event is disease, stress or the use of immunosuppressing medications, such as steroids.

Identifying an Outbreak Trigger

Friction against the skin can also trigger the dormant virus. Friction can be caused by sex, and aggravated by a lack of lubrication. People living with genital herpes should consider the regular use of lubricants to help reduce friction during intercourse.

Outbreak triggers include:

  • illness
  • stress
  • poor diet
  • sunlight
  • sunburn
  • physical trauma
  • surgery
  • immune disorders
  • menstruation
  • friction
  • sex.


National Library of Medicine. (2002). Herpes genital (genital herpes simplex). Retrieved August 23, 2003 from

NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopedia. (2002). Genital herpes. Retrieved August 27, 2002, from