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Genital Herpes Health Center

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Herpes Tests

Risks

If an antibody test is done, there is very little chance of problems from having a blood sample taken from a vein.

  • You may get a small bruise at the site. You can lower the chance of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several minutes.
  • In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after the blood sample is taken. This problem is called phlebitis. A warm compress can be used several times a day to treat this.
  • Ongoing bleeding can be a problem for people with bleeding disorders. Aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood-thinning medicines can make bleeding more likely. If you have bleeding or clotting problems, or if you take blood-thinning medicine, tell your doctor before your blood sample is taken.

Results

Herpes tests are done to find the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Results for a rapid viral culture may take 2 to 3 days, while results for a standard culture can take up to 14 days. Antigen detection test results are ready in a day. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results are ready in 1 to 3 days. Results from an antibody blood test are ready in 2 days. The results from an antibody test called an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA, EIA) may be ready in about 2 hours.

Herpes tests
Normal:

Normal results are called negative.

No HSV grows in the viral culture.

No viral antigens or DNA are found.

No herpes antibodies are present in the blood.

Abnormal:

Abnormal results that show HSV are called positive.

HSV grows in the viral culture.

HSV antigens or DNA are found.

Antibodies to the herpes virus are present in the blood.

Samples taken from newly formed sores containing fluid (blisters) are generally better than samples collected from older, crusted sores.

A normal (negative) test result does not mean you do not have a herpes infection. If the first test is negative but you have symptoms of herpes, more tests may be done.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

What To Think About

  • Normal test results do not mean you do not have a herpes infection.
  • Herpes is often diagnosed by symptoms and by knowing whether the person has had contact with an infected person. Sometimes a test is not needed. A person who has genital herpes needs to learn how to avoid spreading the disease, because the disease is more likely to be spread when he or she has sores. If you have recurrent outbreaks, especially during times of stress or illness, you can also spread the disease.
  • You may want to know whether a herpes infection is due to HSV-1 or HSV-2 so you can take steps to prevent or treat outbreaks.
  • A genital herpes infection can be spread from a mother to her baby during vaginal delivery. In a newborn, herpes can cause organ failure, brain infection, and death. If active herpes is present near the time of delivery, a cesarean delivery (C-section) may be done to prevent infecting the baby.
  • Rapid tests are available at some clinics that check blood from a finger stick for antibodies to HSV-2. The results are generally ready in about 10 minutes. These tests are more expensive than other tests and may not be available everywhere.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 20, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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