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How to Test for Herpes: Diagnosis and Treatment

Easily spread and impossible to get rid of, herpes simplex viruses are among the most commonly transmitted viruses. Read on to learn more about this virus family, when and how to test for herpes, and treatment options.

Two Types of Herpes

Herpes is a skin infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus type or HSV. The herpes virus is characterized by its ability to persist in the body in a latent form of HSV infection, taking up residence in the neural ganglia near the point of initial infection. In rare cases, HSV of either type can take up residence along nerves, including the spinal cord.

HSV-1 (Oral Herpes)

HSV-1, or oral herpes, is the first type. Oral herpes is more commonly called cold sores. The blisters, which can be very tiny or as large as a small pea, typically spring up near a nerve on or around the lips.

When they begin to grow, you will feel a tingling, tickling sensation in the area. They come up very quickly and start crusting and leaking fluid as the virus progresses through its cycle. They are most contagious during this shedding phase and can soon spread on contaminated straws or eating utensils.

Oral herpes has been known to infect other mucus membranes, including the nose, eyes, ears, inside the mouth, and even the genital area if oral contact is made during shedding.

HSV-2 (Genital Herpes)

HSV-2, or genital herpes, is contracted through direct contact, skin to skin, or sexual contact. HSV-2 can be spread when no sores are visible.

Though both HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections recur periodically, HSV-2 virus infections recur far more often. In some rare cases, an infection can lead to severe brain and neurological illness, including meningitis.

HSV-2 causes itching, pain, and sores. There is no cure for genital herpes, but medications may ease symptoms and slow the spread of the disease.

When to Test for Herpes

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends STD testing for active genital herpes symptoms because they can visually confirm the infection. The appearance of blisters on or around the genitals and the rectum, and even the mouth, is called an outbreak. Once the blisters emerge and break, they are contagious and may take several weeks to heal.

Pregnant women who have a partner with genital herpes must get tested. The virus can be passed to the baby during birth or, more rarely, while still in the womb through the umbilical cord. They are at the most significant risk of contracting it if the mother’s first herpes infections occur during the third trimester.

Complications of neonatal herpes range from a high fever and skin blisters to seizures, convulsions, and even death.

HSV-2 infection can also increase your risk of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. You should get tested for HSV-2 if you:

  •         Have a sex partner with HIV or another STD
  •         Are a man who engages in sex with other men
  •         Have multiple sexual partners

The CDC also recommends testing for anyone with a partner who has genital herpes. Testing can determine whether you have the virus. If not, your doctor can advise you on ways to lower the risk of contracting genital herpes.

How to Test for Herpes

If you are experiencing HSV-1 or HSV-2, your doctor can diagnose the infection by looking at your skin and swabbing one of the sores to test for the virus. In genital herpes, where symptoms are not always obvious, a blood test can determine infection.

The most common and effective herpes STD test is a viral culture. A swab is used to collect a sample of crust, fluid, or skin from a lesion. The virus is then permitted to grow in a laboratory, generating enough genetic materials to properly test the virus.

Viral cultures are generally reliable. Though some false positives or false negatives do come back, the chances of this happening are slim. If you have active sores, it is not necessary to wait before having the test.

In the case of HSV-2 infection, visible signs of which may not be present, a blood test may be used to detect the herpes virus. The herpes blood test searches for antibodies to the herpes virus in the blood.

Antibodies form when your body is confronted with infection and can last for years, even your lifetime. The presence of antibodies means that your body has encountered the infection, either recently or sometime in the past.

There are two types of herpes blood diagnostic tests:

  •         General herpes blood tests only look for all herpes antibodies and do not specify what type it is.
  •         Type-specific herpes blood tests look for all antibodies and identify what type of HSV infection you have.

The Herpes IgG Test

The Herpes IgG test is a blood sample test that detects specific antibodies for herpes viruses in the blood. This is a type-specific test that confirms whether you have herpes or not. It also can distinguish between HSV-1 and HSV-2 and determine which type of infection you have.

The Herpes IgG test is best administered 3-4 months after possible infection. The antibodies can show up earlier, but if you take the test at less than 12 weeks, you’ll have to retake the test after 16 weeks to get a concrete answer.

Where to Get Tested for Herpes

Getting tested is the only way to know for sure whether you have herpes. You can get tested for both types of herpes and other STDs at your doctor’s office, the Health Department, or through your local Planned Parenthood.

You have to request STD testing of any kind during your regular checkup with your doctor or gynecologist, as they are not part of the standard exam. It’s essential to be open and honest with your doctor and nurse so they can help you choose the best tests for you.

If you have any sores or other symptoms, you should get testing and evaluation done immediately. At Rapid STD Testing, you can order an individual herpes test, with same-day results ready when you need them. They also offer test panels for STDs, including HSV-1 and HSV-2. The Herpes IgG test provides answers very soon after possible infection, as little as one week after contact.

Preparing for Your Herpes STD Test and Appointment

After you make an appointment with your doctor or gynecologist, you’ll want to prepare some basic questions and answers to discuss with your healthcare provider. Your doctor will want to know your symptoms when they began, any medications or supplements you take, and what your sexual lifestyle is as far as partners and protection habits.

You’ll also want a list of good questions for the doctor. Some basic ones to include:

  •         What type of test will I need?
  •         Should I get tested for other STDs?
  •         Should my partner get tested?
  •         How do I avoid infecting my partner?

Your doctor will also ask you questions during the appointment, especially about any pain you may feel in your pelvis, while urinating, or if you have any unusual discharge.

Treatment

There is no cure for herpes. Once you become infected by the virus, it never goes away though it may remain latent for long periods.

There are several treatments for herpes that can relieve the symptoms and speed the healing time, including antiviral medications, supplements, and topical treatments designed to soften the lips and promote healing.

Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications, such as acyclovir (Zovirax) and valacyclovir (Valtrex), to treat genital herpes and may advise that the medication be taken only when you have symptoms or an outbreak. In some cases, it is necessary to take it every day, even when there are no symptoms.

Supplements and topical treatments with the amino acid L-lysine are also highly effective at suppressing the recurrence of HSV-1 and HSV-2. L-lysine supplements are also effective at decreasing the length of outbreaks and the severity of symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can pregnant women pass on genital herpes infections to their baby?

Yes, pregnant women can pass a genital herpes infection to their baby, especially if they are newly infected themselves. The baby is most commonly infected during the birth process. However, in rare cases, the infection passes to the baby through the umbilical cord.

Do STD tests check for herpes?

A herpes test may or may not be included in an STD panel. The tests in the STD panel will be chosen by your doctor based on your patient history and symptoms. It is essential to ask your doctor what tests you are getting and why.

STD panel tests are usually done for the more severe infection that has physically devastating outcomes if not treated promptly. For example, chlamydia, when left untreated, can cause serious damage to a woman’s body, resulting in infertility from the scarring caused by the disease.

Genital herpes rarely results in a severe outcome for an otherwise healthy adult who is not pregnant.

Does genital herpes increase the risks of HIV infection?

Infection with HSV-2 does increase your risk of contracting HIV. Researchers have hypothesized an increase in HIV infection in people with HSV-2 because of the sores and breaks in the skin. They’ve also found that HIV replicates more rapidly in healed HSV-2 lesions and even treated lesions are vulnerable.

Rapid STD Testing, a Rapid Screenings Center division, offers confidential antibody testing options with fast results. Our trained counselors are available to take care of you and set your mind at ease. If you think you may have been exposed to herpes, don’t delay testing. Contact Rapid STD Testing at (866) 872-1888 and schedule your same-day herpes test today.