Dear Dr. Kate – Looks Like Herpes, Could It Be Something Else?

photo by Katie_Tegtmeyer

Dr. Kate is an OB/GYN at one of the largest teaching hospitals in New York City and she answers your medical questions here once a week. To ask her your own question, click here.

Dear Dr. Kate,

I recently had a few zit-like sores on my labia that I was convinced were genital herpes. I went to a nurse practitioner who looked at them and took a sample — she said she just didn’t think that was the case and I never got a call back which means all my tests came back negative. So what could they have been? Infected hair follicles? Actual zits? Infected glands (I’ve heard there are little glands and ducts down there but not sure where)?

— Bumps in the Night

Dear B.i.t.N.,

If you had multiple sores that looked like chicken pox (clear bumps with a red bottom) and they hurt, it’s most likely herpes. This virus is a hard one to diagnose with tests…unless your nurse practitioner popped open a bump to swab the fluid for culture (ouch), the test may have been negative, even if the virus was there. If you want to get a diagnosis, you can ask her about the blood tests for herpes. They’re a little complicated — there’s two kinds of viruses, and they’re the same ones that cause cold sores — but it’s the definitive way to know.

Infected hair follicles can look like herpes — you’ll see those on the hair-bearing lady parts (i.e., the outer labia but not the inner). If your sores were on your mons and on the larger lips, and you’ve been waxing or shaving with an old razor, that might be all they were. (Hydrocortisone cream and time can fix them.)

The last possibility is another viral infection that also shows up down below. It’s possible to get an infection like Epstein Barr virus — with a fever and sore throat — and break out with fever blisters on your vulva. This is really uncommon, though — so unless you were pretty sick, this is not likely the reason.

If the bumps come back, get into see your nurse practitioner as soon as possible, for the best chance of a diagnosis. If it takes a few days to get an appointment, snap a picture with your camera or phone, so you can show her what the bumps looked like at their painful best.

— Dr. Kate

Dr. Kate is an OB/GYN at one of the largest teaching hospitals in New York City. She also lectures nationally on women’s health issues and conducts research on reproductive health. Check out more of her advice and ask her a question at Gynotalk.com.

One Comment

  1. What if the person never kissed anyone, other than her mother and father, and has never had sexual contact of any kind and has these blister like sores? The pediatrician and gynecologist we saw today both say they think it’s herpes despite my daughter’s insistence she’s never been with anyone sexually, has never been touched or kissed by anyone. She’s an honor student, involved in sports and doesn’t go out to most functions because she’s not “into” the drinking and smoking that her peers are experimenting in, choosing instead to stay home or go watch sporting events with me, her mom. I wholeheartedly believe she has NEVER had any sexual contact with anyone, yet she has these blister like “chicken pox” formations in her vagina area. Because of the Tksgiving holiday, we won’t get the results until possibly after the weekend and until then, the gyn put her on antibiotics treating her for herpes! Well, if she’s never been sexually active, has never kissed another person but for her parents who are do not have herpes, never had herpes, then shouldn’t they be running blood work to find a proper diagnosis? I’ve seen so many diseases mentioned on the web and I’m frustrated because the pediatrician and gyn they sent us to can’t seem to understand — SHE’S NEVER BEEN WITH ANYONE, NEVER KISSED ANYONE — therefore, she’s running a 102 fever for three days now, has MASSIVE headaches and neck and back pain that she has to live with for the next four or five days until they await results of a test I know will be negative. Any advice?

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