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What are the Herpes Stages?

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What are the Herpes Stages?

writtenByWritten by: Leah McCabe
Leah McCabe

Leah McCabe

Leah likes writing about health and science subjects. Through her writing she hopes to help people of all backgrounds have equal access to information and quality healthcare.

Read more posts by this author.
reviewBy Reviewed by: 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.

January 14, 2021 Read Time - 4 minutes

What are the Herpes Stages?

An outbreak of herpes, oral herpes or genital herpes, has a progression of blister development and healing.

The herpes stages include:

1. The prodrome stage

2. Development of blisters

3. Development of ulcers

4. Healing of ulcers

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Let’s take a closer look at the herpes stages and what happens during each one.

Herpes Stages: 1) Prodrome

The prodrome is a phase of signs or symptoms that indicates the onset of an outbreak.

During this stage of herpes outbreaks, the virus is traveling to the surface of the skin. This might cause redness, itchiness, tingling, pain, or burning in and around the affected area. If the outbreak occurs inside the urethra or around the labia, painful urination can occur.

Herpes Stages: Prodrome — a period of symptoms that marks the onset of an outbreak, typically this stage lasts for several hours.

During the prodrome of a herpes outbreak some might experience flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, or swollen glands.

Pain can also occur in the legs, buttocks, or hips. These symptoms are generally worse if it the patient’s first outbreak.

Even though sores and blisters have not developed during this part of the herpes stages, the skin is still highly contagious and remains contagious for the duration of the outbreak.

Read: Is There a Cure For Herpes?

Herpes Stages: 2) Blisters

Once the virus reaches the surface of the skin, blisters begin to form.

Blisters from the herpes virus begin as small red bumps that become fluid filled (clear to whitish-yellow in color).

Bumps and blisters can be sensitive or painful.

Herpes Stages: Blisters — red bumps form, which soon become fluid-filled blisters

The skin around the blister appears red, and blisters commonly form in clusters.

The appearance of blisters from herpes can be similar to pimples, ingrown hairs, jock itch, or razor burn. Because of these similarities, herpes is frequently mistaken for one of these other conditions.

Fever like symptoms can continue through this part of the herpes stages, but only if it is an outbreak associated with an initial infection.

Read: How Long Does a Herpes Outbreak Last?

Herpes Stages: 3) Ulcers

Eventually the blisters break and drain. When this occurs open sores called ulcers form at the site of the blister.

Initially ulcers look like pink or red craters that ooze fluid or more rarely bleed. During this stage, the open sores are more uncomfortable or painful than preceding blisters.

Ulcers eventually accumulate dead cells into a soft material colored whitish-yellow. This material hardens and turns into a crust or scab. Crusts and scabs form by the area drying out, which doesn’t happen in wet areas like inside the mouth or genitals.

Herpes Stages: 4) Healing

Ulcers can take a long time to heal. During an initial herpes outbreak, healing can take 2 to 4 weeks. Healing during subsequent outbreaks is usually quicker.

As ulcers crust and scab, they begin to heal from the outside in. Itchiness is a common symptom during this stage. The scab or crust may crack, possibly causing some bleeding to occur. After the scab is gone, the area may remain red for a while. Scarring can occur if the scabs are picked at.

What Stage Is Herpes Contagious?

Herpes is contagious in every stage. It is the most contagious during the ulcer stage when blisters have burst and fluid is present.

It is important to take measures to prevent the spread of herpes. These include using condoms and dental dams, refraining from sexual activity and touching, including kissing (for oral herpes), when you are experiencing an outbreak.

A great way to prevent outbreaks and the spread of herpes is by using prescription medication from a doctor.

Wait until your sores have healed and the scabs have fallen off before having sex again. Don’t touch your sores as this is an easy way to spread the virus.

Get a Prescription For Herpes Online Now

Experiencing symptoms of herpes? Book an appointment with a PlushCare physician to get a prescription treatment today.

Common prescriptions our doctors write for herpes treatment are:

The average appointment lasts 15 minutes and if the doctor finds you may benefit from prescription medication as a part of your herpes treatment plan they will electronically send one to the pharmacy of your choice.

Read More About Herpes


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

Mayo Clinic. Cold Sores. Accessed January 16, 2020 at

World Health Organization. Herpes Simplex Virus. Accessed January 16, 2020 at Herpes Simplex Virus. Accessed January 16, 2020 at

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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