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How to Identify a Herpes Rash on Your Body


Herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), of which there are two types: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Usually, oral herpes is caused by HSV-1 and genital herpes is caused by HSV-2, though it's possible for each type to infect either area.

Herpes can cause a blister-like rash around the mouth or genitals, but it can present on other body parts as well. 

The blisters usually break open and leave painful sores. It’s also possible to experience flu-like symptoms while you have the rash.

The first herpes outbreak may last about one to two weeks, with subsequent outbreaks being less severe.1 Your healthcare provider can prescribe medications to shorten the time period as well. 

Herpes Rash on Various Body Parts

The first outbreak typically occurs two to 12 days after contracting the virus,2 and the sores usually last for about seven to 10 days. 

Most people with a herpes infection will not develop symptoms or will experience only a mild rash.

A classic herpes outbreak usually involves one or more blisters that start as small red bumps. They may resemble a group of pimples or ingrown hairs. They then progress to fluid-filled blisters before rupturing and oozing fluid that crusts over. It’s common to feel tingling, itching, or burning a day or two before the rash appears. 

Herpes sores usually present around the mouth or genital area. Oral herpes appears as cold sores on the lips or around the mouth. The sores may be painful and itchy.

Genital herpes often presents as a painful rash around the genital area or anus. It may result in difficulty urinating, especially in women.

Touching herpes sores can transfer the virus to your fingers and then any other body part that you touch. If you accidentally touch an open herpes sore, wash your hands right away to prevent spreading it to other areas of your body. 

It is also possible to experience herpes gladiatorum, a skin infection that can appear anywhere on the body and is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Herpes gladiatorum, also known as mat herpes, is commonly found in athletes, such as wrestlers who experience skin-to-skin contact in their sport. It is also commonly found in military service members who undergo hand-to-hand combat training.

A herpes rash on the body usually begins as a painful, itchy patch of skin. It is often mistaken for a bacterial infection and treated with antibiotics, which do not affect the herpes virus. It then progresses to a typical outbreak, with painful blisters that rupture and crust over.3

 What Does a Herpes Rash Look Like?

Related Symptoms

Painful blisters are the classic sign of a herpes infection. They may be preceded by sensations of burning, itching, numbness, or tingling.

In addition to a rash, herpes can also cause:4


Body aches

Swollen glands 

Difficulty or pain with urination

The first herpes outbreak is usually the longest and most severe one you will experience. While the virus that causes herpes will always live in your body, the number and duration of your outbreaks should decrease over time. This is because your body makes antibodies to fight the virus over time. Many people experience only one herpes outbreak in their lifetime, while others may have several.

A herpes outbreak can occur at any time, and stress is likely to cause one. Stressors may include emotional stress, illness, fever, trauma, surgery, sun exposure, and menstrual periods. 

Talk with your healthcare provider if you have identified a trigger that usually leads to an outbreak. For example, severe sunburn can trigger an outbreak if you have herpes simplex virus on the face or an area of the body that is often exposed to the sun.

 Recognizing Herpes: Signs and Symptoms to Be Aware Of


There is no cure for the herpes virus, but there are treatments available to address the outbreaks. Antiviral medications can soothe your symptoms while shortening the duration of the outbreak.

As soon as you notice an outbreak starting, call your healthcare provider.

Oral antiviral medications such as Zovirax (acyclovir), famciclovir, and Valtrex (valacyclovir) may be prescribed to shorten the duration of the outbreak and help prevent future outbreaks.5

Herpes Treatment During Pregnancy

If you develop a herpes rash during your pregnancy, talk with your obstetrician right away. It’s possible that the virus can affect an unborn baby. It may also be transferred to the newborn during childbirth.4 See your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms, to have a physical exam, and discuss treatment options. 

To soothe an outbreak of genital herpes, take your prescribed medication and try sitting in a warm bath. Applying ice to a herpes rash on the face may provide some relief as well. To help prevent outbreaks, take steps to avoid the triggers that lead to one, such as a sunburn or extreme stress. 

Also, you don’t want to kiss a baby if you have a cold sore because it could lead to a serious infection in the baby early in life.



A mild herpes rash may appear as a group of pimples or ingrown hairs, while a classic herpes outbreak usually involves one or more blisters that break open and crust over. Avoid close contact with others or touching the rash and then other parts of your body to prevent it from spreading.

A Word From Verywell 

Experiencing a herpes rash or outbreak is uncomfortable, and the thought of going through it again may feel unbearable. Remember that while the herpes virus will always live in your body, available treatments can help manage the outbreaks. 

If you believe that you are experiencing a herpes rash, see your healthcare provider to be evaluated and receive antiviral medication. This is especially important if you have a compromised immune system. Avoid touching the rash as best as you can, and avoid direct contact with others as well.


How long does a herpes outbreak last?

A person's first herpes outbreak is usually the longest, lasting for one to two weeks. If there are subsequent outbreaks, they are often shorter and less severe. There are prescription medications designed to shorten the length of a herpes outbreak.

Does herpes itch?

Yes. One common symptom of herpes is itchy, irritated, or painful skin. Most people who experience a herpes infection either won't develop any symptoms or will at most develop a mild rash.

What causes herpes outbreaks?

A herpes outbreak can happen at any time, but triggers can include emotional stress, illness, trauma, fever, surgery, sun exposure, and menstrual periods. Identifying which stressors will trigger a herpes outbreak is useful toward preventing future outbreaks.