Testing For Herpes

Dec 08, 2011 No Comments by

If you think you might have herpes simplex then you should see your doctor and get tested. Anytime you have blisters or open sores it is the best time to be tested. This way the doctor can swab the sore for fluid, and can use this for an analysis.

But even if there are no outbreaks for the doctor to test, if you believe you might have herpes you should still see your medical practitioner as there are other types of tests that can search for herpes virus antibodies in your system. You can also explain why you think you might have herpes, discuss your symptoms, and explore treatment options if it is determined that you do have one of the types of herpes simplex.

Typically testing for herpes is done for genital herpes or HSV-2 only. Oral herpes is generally diagnosed visually if you have fever blisters or open sores. The severity and frequency of outbreaks will help the doctor determine if you need testing.

Symptoms for Active Herpes Outbreaks

Herpes simplex type 1 and type 2 are both viral infections for which there is no cure. Both forms of herpes simplex will cycle through periods of dormancy, where the viral organism is at rest, and periods of active outbreaks.

Both types of herpes simplex have similar symptoms, the main difference being where the herpes outbreaks manifest. For HSV-1 or oral herpes the fever blisters or cold sores will typically be concentrated around the lips or on the face. For HSV-2 or genital herpes these outbreaks will typically be found on or around the genitals, thighs, or buttocks.

Both types of herpes are very contagious, especially when there are visible signs of an outbreak. The signs and symptoms are somewhat individualized, from barely there to severe. If you have been sick or have intense periods of stress this can cause outbreaks, and may even cause the outbreaks to be more severe than you normally experience.

Besides the fever blisters and cold sores, symptoms for both types of herpes simplex may include muscle aches, fever, headache, and fatigue. Many people who have herpes don’t realize that they are infected with the disease. This is often because the symptoms can mirror the flu or other general illness. Swollen glands in the throat for oral herpes, and in the groin area for genital herpes may go un-noticed or thought to be something else. Many times the outbreaks will be written off as razor burn, pimples, ingrown hairs, or some kind of rash.

Typically the primary infection will have more blisters or sores than subsequent outbreaks. The first manifestation of the viral infection will often cover the most area of skin, with recurrences focused over less area. With genital herpes the first showing of the illness may cause painful urination, swollen lymph nodes, and a general feeling of sickness. The flare-ups will typically be less severe, but not always. A poor immune system or increased stress can cause flare-ups or outbreaks to gain in severity.

The reason the first occurrence of herpes simplex is the worst is that your body hasn’t yet created the antibodies needed to fight off the viral infection. Once you’ve had the initial outbreak, the antibodies produced to fight the infection will keep it from being as severe as the first time.

Testing For Herpes

While it is true that diagnosing herpes simplex is usually done by your doctor after you have shared your symptoms and he has confirmed an outbreak, there are tests available to confirm if you have herpes or not. This might be particularly important if you are pregnant or become pregnant, or if you want to help keep your partner or future partner from getting herpes.

As stated before, when you have an active outbreak with blisters or sores you should go see your doctor before they heal. This would allow the doctor to swab the lesions and use the primary testing methods to verify whether or not you have the disease.

The primary testing methods for herpes simplex include:

  • Herpes Viral Culture – Once fluid or cells are taken from a blister or sore with a cotton swab, the sample is put into a culture container that will be left for a period of time and then evaluated for herpes.
  • Herpes Virus antigen detection test – Again using cells scrapped from a fresh outbreak, the swab is smeared on a slide and put under a microscope so that the doctor or lab technician can search for herpes antigens. This test is sometimes done alone, or along with a viral culture.
  • Polymerase chain reaction or PCR test – Typically this type of test is done on a blood sample or on spinal fluids. PCR is used to find the herpes DNA or genetic markers. One advantage to this test is that it can differentiate between the two forms of Herpes Simplex, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Traditionally this test is done on spinal fluid and used when herpes is believed to be causing a brain infection.
  • Antibody tests – This blood test is done to look for herpes antibodies that can be found in the blood if you have been exposed to herpes and have had the first outbreak. This test is not helpful if you have recently been infected and it can’t tell if you have a herpes infection that is active now, or if it is an infection you had in the past. There are some blood tests that will just tell you that you have herpes, and some that will tell you if you have oral herpes or genital herpes.

Typically test samples for genital herpes are taken from the sores found in the genital area. There are extremely rare circumstances where fluids may need to be taken from blood, urine, tears, or spinal fluid.

There are private, in home tests available for herpes. See here for more information on these tests.

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