Current Tests Available to Determine Herpes Infection
There are a number of testing procedures to determine a Herpes infection. Proper diagnostic procedures include a physical examination of infected areas by a qualified health care professional. Most experienced practitioners are competent in identifying HSV by its visible characteristics. Cell cultures are the standard test for confirmation, and must be taken by sampling or swabbing an active lesion. Many experts recommend that a culture be taken even in the case of a “classic herpes” visual diagnosis, to confirm the diagnosis and viral type.
Swab Tests on Active Infections
Herpes viral culture swab test. Cells or fluid from a blister or sore are collected with a cotton swab and placed in a culture medium. A viral culture is the best method of identifying an active genital herpes infection.
Cultures tests are best and most accurate when taken on a fresh new active blister. Even then, the amount of virus present may not be enough to get an accurate result. The amount of virus present is usually less in recurrent Herpes outbreaks than on a first outbreak, and cultures of recurrent lesions have a very high (50%) false negative rate.
Suspected Herpes infections that show negative in culture may require additional testing. However, a positive result by culture is a definite determinant of infection. Be sure to obtain the viral type (HSV-1 or HSV-2) from your health care provider.
Because of the the need to have fresh active lesions to get an accurate result, it’s important to get a Herpes culture test as soon as you can after discovering it.
Other Swab Tests
Herpes virus antigen swab test. Cells from a fresh sore are scraped off and then smeared onto a microscope slide. This test finds markers (called antigens) on the surface of cells infected with the herpes virus.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. A PCR test can be done on cells or fluid from a sore or on blood or on other fluid, such as spinal fluid. PCR detects the DNA of the Herpes virus. This test can differentiate between HSV-1 and HSV-2. The PCR test is not usually done on skin sores, the culture test is much more common.
Blood Tests for Herpes Simplex HSV1 & HSV2
Herpes blood tests do not look for the virus itself, they look for the antibody to the herpes virus… antibodies being our body’s response to fight an infection. A positive antibody test means that the person is definitely infected with herpes and can transmit the virus to others. However, a blood test cannot tell where the infection is located on the body.
It usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks after initial infection for antibodies to develop in the blood, so any blood test done prior to that time, if you DO have Herpes, will result in a false negative or inaccurate result. Consult with your local medical labs and health care provider as to availability, costs, and applicability of these procedures.
Many commercially available blood tests tests are not accurate for determining HSV type and time of infection, a notable exception being the Western Blot serology, the oldest accurate test, which must be specially ordered and processed through specialized labs through the University of Washington.
In addition to the Western Blot, there are now two type-specific serologic tests that can accurately detect Herpes and distinguish between HSV 1 and 2. The new accurate tests measure a kind of antibody called IgG. These tests detect glycoprotein G, a substance specific to HSV 1 or HSV 2 and no other virus.
IgM (a different kind of antibody than IgG) tests do not accurately distinguish between the types of virus (HSV 1 and HSV 2) nor can they accurately tell a new infection from an old one. IgM tests may also pick up other herpes viruses like chicken pox or mono virus, and are therefore inaccurate for Herpes Simplex testing. Many experts recommend that IgM tests for herpes should be avoided completely – so if your medical professional or testing service is suggesting such a test, stand your ground and insist on an IgG test such as the ones listed below.
The three tests below are the recommended tests for the most accurate diagnosis and typing of Herpes.
The oldest test, the Western Blot, was developed at the University of Washington by Dr. Rhoda Ashley Morrow, and is still done only at that facility. You can have your blood drawn at a lab near you, and have them send it to the University of Washington laboratory for testing. For more information and instructions on how to get this test, call 206-598-6066.
The second and third tests, the HerpeSelect IgG for Herpes Simplex 1 and 2, are produced by Focus Diagnostics.
HerpeSelect has two test formats: The EIA (or ELISA) and the Immunoblot. They are both glycoprotein G based tests, accurately distinguish between HSV 1 and 2, and are very sensitive and specific for Herpes. The HerpeSelect tests are drawn at your local lab or clinician’s office and sent to the company for processing.
It’s always best to see a qualified medical professional in person for an exam and testing for HSV or any other conditions! We believe strongly in doing your own research, and know also that no one can diagnose or accurately treat any condition over the internet. That being said, there are several testing organizations that can help you get a quick answer so you can get reassurance and proceed with treatment. There is a link to an excellent company below.
With Herpes Testing, Timing is Key!
The tricky thing about Herpes and testing for Herpes is the timing and the fact that many people may have had Herpes for a very long time and not realized it. So, someone who suddenly has a Herpes outbreak and thinks they were just infected, may in fact have had it for months or years. This is one of the frustrating things about Herpes.
So, some people who have what they think is an initial outbreak can get tested to find out if there are antibodies in the blood. If there are antibodies, then the infection is not new. If there are no antibodies, then it is a new infection. This can help with identifying the timing and source of an infection.
If you do get a blood test, there’s something important to keep in mind:
If you have JUST been infected, you will not have antibodies in the blood. So even the best most accurate blood test will show negative if you are freshly infected. It can take between 3 and 10 weeks for antibodies to develop to detectable levels. The optimum time to get a tests is 3 to 4 months after infection. Testing earlier than that may result in false negative.
Once you find out if you do have Herpes, you can get medications if you choose that route, and make sure you follow the recommendations to stay healthy, and as outbreak free as possible.
Keep Calm – Get Tested – Seek Support
Always remember, that no matter what type it is or when you got it, having Herpes will turn out to be a minor occasional annoyance. The emotional hardship and stigma associated with Herpes is solely based on it being located on the genitals which is still an unspeakable area of the body to some people. It’s just a virus, and cannot define who you are as a person.
For additional support, please check out the Local and Online Support page, and for tips on how to keep your Herpes journey as outbreak-free as possible, see our Health Tips & Living with Herpes pages.
We are also now an affiliate of a Great Testing Service, from whom you can securely and discreetly order tests for HSV and many other STIs. In all cases of testing, the sooner you do it, the better. They’ll walk you through the process step by step!