Genital herpes a sexually transmitted infection caused by herpes simplex virus type (HSV) 1 or 2, although type 2 predominates. Genital HSV-2 infections are more likely to cause recurrent outbreaks than are HSV-1 genital infections. While most people with genital herpes experience few or no symptoms, symptomatic infections are characterized by periodic outbreaks of small fluid-filled sores on the genitals, anal area and/or upper thighs. These outbreaks commonly involve the head of the penis in men. Certain characteristics of genital herpes sores and related symptoms can aid in their identification, but laboratory testing is needed to confirm the diagnosis of genital herpes.
Examine the head of the penis for small pimple- or blister-like sores. The sores associated with a genital herpes outbreak change in appearance over time. They characteristically begin as small, painful pimples on a red base that transform into fluid-filled blisters. These blisters, known as vesicles, break open in a few days leaving small painful ulcers. The superficial skin ulcers crust over as healing begins. During the first few days of an outbreak, new sores may continue to form so the various sores may appear different depending on how old they are. Genital herpes sores typically heal within 2 to 4 weeks.
Note whether the sores on the penis are accompanied by tingling, burning or itching. These sensations often begin a day or two before herpes sores develop and gradually diminish as the sores heal. Mild flu-like symptoms might also precede a genital herpes outbreak, especially if it's the first outbreak after contracting the infection.
Examine not just the head of the penis but also the shaft and base, and your upper thighs as genital herpes sores can also appear in these areas. Although it's difficult to visualize the anal area, sores can develop in this region as well and cause pain, itching, burning or tingling. Involvement of the opening at the head of the penis can also cause burning pain with urination even if you see no sores.