So you maybe came into contact with herpes and every lip tingle or down under discomfort has you buggin’ about the herpes incubation period. Repeat after us: Don’t 👏 freak 👏 out 👏.

What is the herpes incubation period?

An incubation period is the time it takes for a virus to become symptomatic (basically the time between exposure and symptoms).

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 have the same incubation period — the average is 4 days, but it can range from 2 to 12 days.

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Here’s what to know about the herpes incubation period.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

Herpes is a hella common disease that stems from two types of the herpes simplex virus (HSV):

  • HSV-1 can cause cold sores in or around the mouth. In some cases it can also affect your vajayjay or peen. You can get this strain from a make out sesh, swapping makeup, or sharing utensils.
  • HSV-2 (aka genital herpes) can lead to blisters on your private bits, but it can also infect your mouth. You usually get it from sexual contact.

Oral herpes symptoms include:

  • blisters on the face
  • ulcers on the tongue
  • painful sores on the lips or around the mouth

Genital herpes symptoms include:

  • pain when peeing
  • itchy genitals
  • tiny white blisters, red bumps, or painful ulcers on the mouth, butt, thighs, anus, urethra, vagina, or penis

How long do symptoms last?

Symptoms can last for 2 to 4 weeks during your first outbreak. Thankfully, outbreaks can be less intense over time.

Pro tip: You might notice some crusting as the lesions heal. Don’t scratch the scabs! It can lead to scarring.

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Herpes outbreaks vary from person to person. The average number of outbreaks for someone with HSV-1 is less than one a year, while those with HSV-2 might have 4 to 5 episodes. While that’s the average, peeps can go years without any issues.

When you don’t have any noticeable symptoms, the virus is in a dormant (or latent) stage.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You can still contract or transmit herpes even if the virus is dormant thanks to viral shedding. But, it’s easier to spread via a wet lesion because the fluid transmits it more effectively.

While the chances are slim, you CAN transmit herpes during the incubation period. Also, an estimated 90 percent of folks with herpes don’t realize they have it. So you might not know when you’re actually incubating.

How common is herpes?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates around 776,000 people in the U.S. will contract genital herpes every year.

In 2016, the World Health Organizations estimated 45 percent of peeps in the Americas had an HSV-1 infection (oral or genital).

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If you run to the clinic the day after a possible transmission event, your results might not be legit. Herpes antibodies won’t show up until you’re out of the incubation period (2 to 12 days). But you don’t have to wait to be tested if you already have symptoms.

If you’re worried you came in contact with HSV, here are some tips:

  • Stop all sexual activity until you know for sure you don’t have herpes.
  • Schedule an appointment with your doctor or a clinic once the incubation period is over.
  • Remember, everything is going to be OK ❤️. Even if you have herpes, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Tests to diagnose herpes

There are four main tests to diagnose herpes:

  • Antibody tests look for HSV antibodies.
  • Viral culture tests determine if a sore contains the virus.
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests screen your blood or a tissue sample for the virus.
  • Virus antigen detection tests detect a lesion for antigens (a substance that causes an immune response).

Your doc will let you know which test is best for you.

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As of now, herpes has no cure. But there are lots of medications that can make it much more manageable.

Most herpes meds come in pill or cream form. Your doc may even give you a shot if the outbreak is severe.

Popular medications include:

  • acyclovir
  • famciclovir
  • valacyclovir

These options can lower the frequency and intensity of your outbreaks. They also reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

Preventing herpes is all about being proactive.

If you’re in the throes of an HSV-1 outbreak:

  • Avoid direct physical contact with others. That includes oral sex, sex, and kissing. (Sorry fam.)
  • Don’t share anything that could spread the virus (e.g. towels, lipstick, silverware, or makeup).
  • Wash your hands 10/10 times after you touch the affected area.
  • Apply medicated creams with cotton pads to reduce direct contact with the ulcers.

If you have HSV-2 you should:

  • Avoid sexy time during an outbreak.
  • Use a condom or dental dam when the virus is dormant (keep in mind, the virus can still spread through skin-to-skin contact).
  • If your eggo is preggo, your doc might give you medication to prevent the virus from infecting your baby.

The herpes simplex virus has no cure. Once you get it, you’ll go through a 2 to 12 day incubation period before symptoms show up. You might experience several outbreaks a year, but it can also stay dormant for years.

Friendly PSA: With great sex comes great responsibility. Get tested for all STIs on the reg.