Herpes Test: What You Should Know

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease. It’s caused by two different viruses called herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2).

You get genital herpes by having sex -- vaginal, oral, or anal -- with someone who already has it.

If you think you’ve been exposed, it naturally can bring up strong emotions. Talk to your doctor about getting tested. It could help you to learn more about the disease and talk honestly with your sexual partner. You might want to join a support group, too.

Do I Need to Get Tested?

Many people with herpes don’t have any symptoms. If symptoms do show up, you might first feel tingling or burning near your genitals.

You might then get blisters around your genitals, anus, thighs, or buttocks. When the blisters break, they leave sores that can take a few weeks to heal. They usually won’t leave any scars.

To check for herpes, your doctor usually does a physical exam and then likely orders one of these tests:

  • Viral culture
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test
  • Blood test

If you get a “positive” result from one of the tests, it likely means you either have genital herpes or have been exposed to the virus.

A “negative” result usually means one of two things. Either:

  • You don’t have genital herpes.
    or:
  • You got the virus so recently that your body hasn’t yet begun to fight it. You may need more tests.

You don’t need to do anything to prepare for these tests. They don’t take long, but how soon you get your results depends on the type of test and the lab that does it.

Viral Culture

For this test, your doctor scrapes or swabs one of your sores to take a sample. A lab then checks the sample for the herpes virus. It can take up to 7 days to get your results.

This test is best used within 48 hours of when you first see symptoms. After that time, the level of herpes virus starts to drop. That means there’s a higher chance the test could say you don’t have herpes when you really do.

Continued

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test

As with the viral culture, your doctor swabs or scrapes a sample from one of your sores. A lab gets the sample and looks for genes from the herpes virus. PCR test results usually come back to you within 24 hours.

You’re more likely to get this test if you have symptoms but it’s been longer than 48 hours since they showed up. In this case, you can rely on the results from this test more than the viral culture.

Blood Test

In this test, your doctor puts a thin needle in your arm, usually near your elbow, and takes out a small amount of blood. A lab then checks it for herpes “antibodies,” something your body makes to fight the virus.

You would get a blood test if you think you have been exposed but you don’t have any symptoms.

Labs may use different types of blood tests. With some you can get results the same day, but others may take up to 3 weeks.

Next Steps

There’s no cure for genital herpes, but it can be treated.

If you do have it, your doctor can help you manage it. There are drugs that can shorten or prevent outbreaks, ease symptoms, and lower the chances your sex partners will get it.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 09, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Genital Herpes -- CDC Fact Sheet.”

Mayo Clinic: “Diseases and Conditions -- Genital Herpes.”

Center for Young Women’s Health: “Herpes.”

Lab Tests Online: “Herpes Testing.”

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: “Screening for Genital Herpes Simplex: Brief Update for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.”

American Sexual Health Association: “Herpes Blood Test Reference Guide.”

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination