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HSV-2 Incubation Period

written by Sydney Garrow Written by Sydney Garrow
Sydney Garrow

Sydney Garrow

Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.

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reviewed by Dr. Katalin Karolyi Reviewed by Dr. Katalin Karolyi
Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Katalin Karolyi, M.D. earned her medical degree at the University of Debrecen. After completing her residency program in pathology at the Kenezy Hospital, she obtained a postdoctoral position at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Orlando, Florida.

February 12, 2021 Read Time - 6 minutes

How Long After Exposure To HSV-2 Until You Have an Outbreak? 

HSV-2, also known as genital herpes, is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD). 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the typical HSV-2 incubation period is 2 to 12 days after exposure––4 days on average. 

It’s important to know that this disease manifests differently in all kinds of people, so while you may not have experienced typical symptoms after the 2 to 12 day HSV-2 incubation period, it does not necessarily mean that you did not contract HSV-2. 

While the HSV-2 incubation period is typically within 2 to 12 days, keep in mind that many people have no symptoms after contracting HSV-2, or don’t show enough signs to notice that they have it. 

If you were knowingly exposed to HSV-2, this also does not mean that you have it for certain. As with many illnesses, this sexually transmitted disease is complicated, and not all individuals will catch it, or present it in the same way after the HSV-2 incubation period. 

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Is Having HSV-2 a Big Deal? 

Awaiting symptoms within the HSV-2 incubation period can be nerve-racking, as herpes is an incredibly stigmatized disease. It’s important to note, that while this disease has some complications, it by no means should be seen as the end of your sex life. 

For most, HSV-2 outbreaks subside as time goes on, and it’s the initial outbreak that is the worst. While it’s important to be clear with sexual partners about your HSV-2 status, the stigma created in most cultures over herpes is oftentimes the “biggest deal” about this STD. 

Also keep in mind that the World Health Organization (WHO) states that 67 percent of people under 50 have herpes, and 13 percent between ages 15 and 49 worldwide have herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). So no matter which strain you have, you are by no means alone. 

If you’ve shown signs after the HSV-2 incubation period, speaking with a doctor about the medications that will help with potential future outbreaks, can be a great comfort. 

It’s also important to speak with a doctor after you have been exposed to HSV-2 so you can request testing. 

At PlushCare you can have a same-day appointment with a top online doctor who can refer you to HSV-2 testing. Once your test results are in the doctor will reach out to you and if you test positive can provide you prescription antiviral medications and answer any questions you may have. 

Is Herpes Contagious?

Yes, herpes is contagious––this explains why so much of the world has it. Despite this fact, having HSV-2 does not mean you cannot have sex without transmitting it to your partner. 

Using barriers such as condoms, avoiding sex or kissing during an outbreak, and taking antiviral medications can all decrease your chances of getting or transmitting HSV-2. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with herpes after the HSV-2 incubation period, you have the benefit of knowing your status and are more likely to protect your partners than someone who does not know they have it (which is often how herpes is transmitted). 

Is it Possible to Have HSV-2 and Not Know it?

Yes, it is possible to have HSV-2 and not know it. Many people with oral herpes will never show symptoms. 

Due to the fact that some people show no signs even after the HSV-2 incubation period is over, many people who have HSV-2 actually do not know that they have it. Although you might not know that you contracted herpes, this does not mean that you can’t give it to someone else, even if you’re showing no symptoms. 

Another reason why many people have HSV-2 without knowing it, is that herpes culture tests and blood tests are not typically included in routine STD tests performed by physicians. Most physicians will provide the test for you if specifically asked, especially if you’re showing symptoms within or near the HSV-2 outbreak period. 

Can You Have HSV-2 and Never Have an Outbreak?

Yes, it possible for HSV-2 to lay dormant and to never have an outbreak. That said, just because it’s dormant doesn’t mean you’re not contagious. About 10% of the time asymptomatic HSV-2 is spread between people. 

As mentioned above, because it’s possible to have HSV-2 and never have an outbreak or show any symptoms, HSV-2 can easily spread without people even realizing it. If you know you’ve been exposed to herpes HSV-2 or HSV-1, get tested as soon as possible so you know your status. 

What is the Difference Between HSV-2 and HSV-1?

Many people might not know it, but there are multiple strains of herpes. HSV-2 usually shows up as genital herpes, while HSV-1 often presents itself orally––many know this strain as cold sores or fever blisters. 

Less commonly known, cold sores or HSV-1 can be transferred to a partner genitally. This means if you contract herpes on your genitals, it could be either HSV-1 or HSV-2. If you’re curious as to which strain you have, tissue from a sore or blood tests are available to determine the herpes strain regardless of where it is. 

The US National Library of Medicine states that in recent times, there has been a great increase in genital herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) in certain parts of the world. One explanation proposed is more awareness of cold sores as a herpes strain, therefore increase in protecting children from this, and leaving them without antibodies and susceptibility in adolescence. 

Another explanation is an increase in oral sex in early adolescence rather than vaginal. 

It is also important to note that in general, those who have contracted HSV-1 genitally, tend to have fewer outbreaks and less asymptomatic shedding than those with genital HSV-2. 

Is There a Cure for Herpes?

While there is currently no cure for HSV-2, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t treatable. 

While you can’t get rid of the HSV-2 or HSV-1 virus after contracting it, outbreaks can be effectively treated and managed. 

Some common antiviral medications to treat herpes outbreaks include: 

You can either take one of these medications daily or on a need-by-need basis. Speak with your physician about which plan might be right for you.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


HSV-2 Treatment Online 

Herpes simplex virus type 2 (and type 1) is not only a common STD but a commonly misunderstood one, that is actually a very manageable disease. So manageable in fact that oral herpes can be treated online

You can speak with a board-certified doctor online through PlushCare and get more information about the HSV-2 incubation period, get a prescription, and find comfort in getting care from trusted medical professionals. 

Book a video appointment with a doctor to learn more about HSV-2 here.

Read More About HSV-2


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

CDC. Herpes Facts. Accessed on February 6, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm

NIH. Genital HSV‐1 infections. Accessed on February 6, 2021 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2564733/

Mayo Clinic. Genital Herpes. Accessed on February 6, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/symptoms-causes/syc-20356161



Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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