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Genital herpes is a common, sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-2 infection impacts about 12% of people aged 14–49 in the U.S. It is a bit less common in men than in women—just over 8% of men have HSV-2 infection, while about 16% of women have it (CDC, 2017). That doesn’t mean men don’t have to worry about genital herpes, though.
Genital herpes symptoms in men
Often, genital herpes is a silent infection, and it is estimated that 85–90% of cases may be undiagnosed (Berger, 2008). So, even if you are infected with HSV-2, you may never experience an outbreak and, therefore, may never know you have it. This can be a problem because you can infect others even when you are asymptomatic.
If you do know you have genital herpes and/or you’ve already experienced an outbreak, there are some common symptoms you can expect when you have an outbreak:
- The most common characterizing symptom of a genital herpes outbreak is the presence of open sores (also called ulcers) on and around the penis, testicles, and/or anus.
- Typically, the first outbreak is the most severe, and you may experience fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes in addition to the ulcers.
- Subsequent outbreaks typically have less severe symptoms without fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes, and outbreaks tend to become less frequent with time.
- It’s not uncommon to experience pain or tingling in the penis, testicles, anus, and/or legs prior to an outbreak. This is called the prodrome, and it’s the best time to start taking antivirals to abort an episode or shorten it.
- Berger, J. R., & Houff, S. (2008). Neurological Complications of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 Infection. Archives of Neurology, 65(5). doi: 10.1001/archneur.65.5.596. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/795486
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, January 31). STD Facts – Genital Herpes (Detailed version). Retrieved April 29, 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm
Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and the Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.