How to Identify a Herpes Rash on Your Body

Fluid-filled blisters that rupture and crust over are a sign of herpes

Herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. A herpes rash usually appears around the mouth or genitals, but can present on other body parts as well. 

Herpes can cause a blister-like rash on the body. 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. Your doctor can prescribe medications to shorten the time period as well. 

A man smears cream on his elbows, close-up

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Herpes Rash on Various Body Parts

Most people with a herpes infection will not develop symptoms or will experience only a mild rash. The first outbreak typically occurs two to 20 days after contracting the virus, and the sores usually last for about seven to 10 days. 

A mild herpes rash may appear as a group of pimples or ingrown hairs. A classic herpes outbreak usually involves one or more blisters that start as small red bumps. 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.

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:

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 times of stress are likely to cause one. Stressors may include emotional stress, illness, fever, trauma, surgery, sun exposure, and menstrual periods. 

Talk with your doctor 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.

Treatment

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 doctor. There are over-the-counter antiviral creams, but usually doctors prescribe antiviral pills, which help more than creams.

Oral antiviral medications doctors may prescribe to shorten the duration of the outbreak include acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir.

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. See your doctor 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.

Summary

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 most likely feels 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 doctor 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.

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  3. Field RD, Taylor BM. Recurrent herpes gladiatorum: should we be screening our service members prior to close combat training? Mil Med. 2020;185(5-6):e904–e908. doi:10.1093/milmed/usz317