How to Identify and Treat Anal Herpes

Herpes is a common viral infection that can cause sores in the mouth or genitals. It is caused by two different but similar viruses known as herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2).

"Genital herpes" refers to herpes that affects the anus, scrotum, vagina, penis, vulva, cervix, buttocks, and inner thighs. "Oral herpes" refers to herpes that affects the throat, mouth, and lips.

This article will discuss anal herpes, including its symptoms, causes, when to see a healthcare provider, diagnosis, and treatment.

Healthcare provider takes medical history and report of symptoms from person with suspected anal herpes

utah778 / Getty Images

Anal Herpes Symptoms

Not everyone with herpes will have symptoms, but some people will develop symptoms in the weeks after acquiring the virus.

Some people will experience lesions in a group or cluster. This is known as an outbreak. In anal herpes, these may occur on the anus but may also appear on the:

  • Thighs
  • Buttocks
  • Penis
  • Scrotum
  • Vagina
  • Vulva

The lesions may be painful and cause a burning sensation.

In many cases, before lesions appear, there may be a sensation of burning or tingling where a lesion will soon develop. This is particularly noticeable when urinating. During this stage, there may be a feeling of discomfort or itching in the genitals as well.

Once lesions develop, they may break, leaving behind sores. These can take weeks to heal fully.

The first time a person has an outbreak, they may also experience flu-like symptoms, including:

  • Swollen glands
  • Body aches
  • Fever

Herpes outbreaks can come and go over time, but the first outbreak is often the worst.

What Does Anal Herpes Look Like?

In some cases, genital herpes (including anal herpes) is not noticeable. If symptoms of herpes do appear, they may begin as small bumps that are white or discolored.

An outbreak of herpes can look different on everyone but may appear as a cluster of lesions similar in appearance to blisters. The blisters may be filled with fluid and be of different sizes. They may also appear in different places on the body.

When the blisters break, they may bleed or ooze white-colored fluid. Over time, the sores left from the burst blisters will form scabs that will eventually disappear.

Conditions That May Be Mistaken for Anal Herpes

Anal herpes can sometimes be mistaken for other skin conditions. This may include ingrown hairs or pimples. Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may have a similar appearance to herpes. This includes syphilis. It is important to determine which STI you have since they require different treatments.

Genital Herpes Causes

Genital herpes is an STI. It is caused by herpes simplex virus. There are two forms of this virus:

  • Type 1 (HSV-1)
  • Type 2 (HSV-2)

A person can acquire genital herpes by coming into contact with herpes simplex. This can occur through contact with:

  • Oral secretions
  • Genital secretions
  • Mucosal surfaces
  • Herpes lesions
  • Skin in the oral or genital area of a person with herpes

Transmission can occur during oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who has the virus. It is possible to acquire genital herpes by having sex with a person who is unaware they have the virus or who doesn't have any visible signs of herpes.

A person with oral herpes can transmit herpes to the genitals or anus through oral contact with those areas.

It is not possible to acquire genital herpes from:

  • Swimming pools
  • Toilet seats
  • Towels
  • Doorknobs

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have any symptoms that may indicate genital herpes, you should make an appointment to see a healthcare provider.

You should also speak with a healthcare provider if your partner has an STI or has any symptoms that may indicate an STI. These symptoms include:

  • Unusual sores
  • Bleeding in between periods
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Genital discharge that smells


Genital herpes can only be diagnosed through testing. To diagnose herpes, a healthcare provider may examine you to look for sores. If lesions are present, the provider may make a diagnosis based on their appearance. They may also perform a swab test to obtain a sample of fluid from the sore for testing.

If sores aren't present, a healthcare provider may recommend a blood test. This usually is recommended if other symptoms are present.

Testing for genital herpes, as well as other STIs, can take place in a number of locations including:

  • A healthcare provider's office
  • A community health clinic
  • A health department
  • Planned Parenthood


There is no cure for genital herpes, but there are options to manage the infection and shorten outbreaks. An anti-herpes medication taken daily can lower the risk of the herpes infection being transmitted to sexual partners.

It is important not to touch the sores or any fluid from them, as this can transfer the herpes infection to other parts of the body. If you do touch any fluid or sores, it is important to quickly wash your hands to prevent transmission of the infection.


Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause sores on the body that may be itchy or painful. Anal herpes refers to herpes that occurs on the anus.

Not everyone with genital herpes will notice symptoms, but some people will have blisters that burst, bleed or ooze. Sometimes, genital herpes is mistaken for other STIs, pimples, or ingrown hairs.

There is no cure for genital herpes, but medications are available to manage the condition and shorten outbreaks.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with genital herpes can be uncomfortable. But remember, herpes infections are common and nothing to be embarrassed about. Don't be afraid to reach out to a healthcare provider for support and guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does herpes on the anus last?

    In the first outbreak of genital herpes, symptoms may continue for two to four weeks. In later outbreaks, sores will heal more quickly. They typically clear up in three days to a week.

  • Does genital herpes make your anus itch?

    Lesions from genital herpes that appear on the anus and other areas may be itchy or painful.

  • Can you get herpes on your anus?

    Herpes sores develop at the site where there was contact with the virus. Not everyone with herpes will have noticeable symptoms. But herpes can appear in a number of places including the:

    • Anus
    • Scrotum
    • Penis
    • Vagina
    • Vulva

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes – CDC basic fact sheet.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Genital herpes.

  4. Planned Parenthood. What does genital herpes look like?
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  6. Planned Parenthood. Should I get tested for herpes?
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Genital herpes – CDC fact sheet (detailed).

  8. Legoff J, Péré H, Bélec L. Diagnosis of genital herpes simplex virus infection in the clinical laboratoryVirol J. 2014;11:83. doi:10.1186/1743-422X-11-83

  9. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Genital herpes.

  10. Planned Parenthood. What are the symptoms of herpes?