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Herpes rash: symptoms, identification and treatment

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Herpes is a common infection that causes the herpes simplex virus (HSV). One of the main symptoms is a blistered rash that doctors sometimes call herpes rash.

A herpes A rash usually develops on the genitals or around the mouth but can occur almost anywhere on the body.

There are two types of HSV that can cause rashes in different places: HSV-1 and HSV-2.

HSV-1 usually causes orolabial herpes. It spreads in the saliva and tends to affect the area around the mouth and nose.

HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes and is usually spread through sexual contact. The rash appears around the genitals. It is also sometimes responsible for orolabial herpes.

This article will explain the symptoms of herpes rash and look at the causes and treatments. It will also look at some other possible causes of skin symptoms that may resemble herpes.

a woman with herpes rash around her mouth.  Image credit: Jojo, 2006Share on Pinterest
Herpes rash is common around the mouth, but it can occur almost anywhere on the body.
Image credit: Jojo, 2006

Herpes causes small sores on the skin. These sores usually develop around the mouth and nose, but can occur almost anywhere on the body, including the fingers. Where the rash appears depends on where and how the person contracted the infection.

The first symptom of a herpes outbreak is usually a tingling, burning, or itching sensation in the affected area. This first symptom can occur about a day before the sores appear.

The sores can be tender, painful, and tingling. They tend to resemble clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters that turn into pustules. Within a few days or a week, they will open, secrete fluid, and form a scab before healing. The rash usually lasts about 7-10 days.

The first time a rash appears, it can persist for different durations depending on the type of herpes. For example, oral herpes symptoms usually go away within 2-3 weeks, while genital herpes symptoms usually go away within 2-6 weeks.

When someone first experiences a herpes outbreak, they may also experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • temperature
  • swollen and red gums
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Once the virus is in the body, it enters the nerves that supply the area of ​​the skin it affects and remains there for life. There is currently no cure for this virus and it tends to reactivate occasionally and cause symptoms.

The first outbreak is usually the worst. While the symptoms of the virus tend to recur occasionally for the rest of a person’s life, they are usually not as severe on subsequent occasions.

Read more about what herpes looks like here.

Herpes rashes tend to resemble clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters on a small area of ​​the body.

Some other skin conditions that can resemble herpes include:

Contact dermatitis

An allergic reaction to an irritant can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Common irritants include: antibiotic creams, cosmetics, shampoos, and perfumes. In infants, contact dermatitis can develop in the diaper area.

Contact dermatitis can cause redness, swelling, and even blisters in the affected area.


Shingles causes a rash on the skin. The same virus that causes chickenpox (the varicella-zoster virus) causes shingles.

The first symptom of shingles is usually a severe burning or tingling sensation on one side of the body. A few days to a week later, a rash of fluid-filled blisters follows.

These blisters usually appear on one part of the body, usually on one side of the trunk, near the waist. They can be tender or painful.

The condition usually goes away within 3-5 weeks.


An infestation of a microscopic parasite known as the human itch mite, or Sarcoptes scabiei, is what causes scabies.

The mite sneaks into the skin to lay eggs and deposit feces. Its presence causes an extremely itchy rash that looks like small pimples, causing red, scaly areas on the skin.

Doctors use a class of drugs called scabicides to treat these parasites. These drugs are only available with a prescription.

There are two types of HSV that cause herpes. Although these types are closely related and both are spread through body fluids and human contact, they are transmitted in different ways.

The virus must not cause the symptoms to spread to another person.

HSV-1 or oral herpes

Most people with HSV-1 got it as an infant or child. It can spread through:

  • having skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus
  • kiss
  • sharing items such as lip balm, dishes, or toothbrushes

HSV-2 or genital herpes

Sexual contact is usually the way HSV-2 spreads. HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes and can spread in saliva during oral sex. HSV-2 can also be passed on to a baby during childbirth.

Both forms of the virus enter the body’s nerve cells, where they will remain for life. The virus tends to remain dormant or dormant in cells until something activates it and triggers an epidemic of symptoms.

Factors that can lead to an outbreak include:

  • emotional tension
  • disease
  • temperature
  • sun exposure
  • period
  • surgery

There is currently no cure for herpes, but the sores usually clear up on their own within a few weeks.

Treatments are available that shorten the duration of the outbreak and relieve symptoms.

If a person has frequent outbreaks, the doctor may recommend taking a pill every day as a prevention. This treatment is known as prophylaxis.

Antiviral creams or ointments can relieve the burning, itching, or tingling sensation. Antiviral pills can help speed up the healing process. Both types of drugs usually contain the same active ingredients. They contain:

  • acyclovir
  • famciclovir
  • valaciclovir

People can get herpes medications from a doctor or pharmacist. Over-the-counter options are also available on line.

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If a person with a weakened immune system develops a herpes rash, they should speak to their doctor.

For otherwise healthy people, a herpes rash is usually not something to worry about. The sores can be painful and uncomfortable, but they usually go away on their own. Medicines to treat them are available at the pharmacy.

The virus can cause complications in some people. Anyone with a long-term health condition or weakened immune system who thinks they have herpes should speak to their doctor.

People with cancer, HIV, or AIDS, and anyone who has recently had an organ transplant should seek urgent medical attention if they believe they have herpes.

Anyone who suspects that something other than herpes, such as dermatitis, shingles, or scabies, is causing the rash, can speak to their doctor about the diagnosis.

Herpes is a common virus that can cause a rash on the skin. These usually develop around the mouth or genitals, but can occur almost anywhere on the body.

There is currently no cure for the virus, and carriers tend to experience outbreaks of symptoms at various times in their lives.

Clusters of fluid-filled blisters can be painful, but are usually harmless. Antiviral treatments are available in many pharmacies that can relieve symptoms and shorten the duration of an outbreak.

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