Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that any sexually active individual has the chance of contracting. According to the latest statistics revealed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 out of every 6 individuals aged between 14 to 49 have a herpes infection.
The viral infection is caused by two types of the herpes viruses; namely herpes simplex type 1 (oral herpes, also commonly known as cold sores) and type 2 (genital herpes).
Most people who have the virus don’t even realize that they have it as one can have mild, almost unnoticeable symptoms that are often mistaken for other skin conditions like an ingrown hair or a pimple. Even without experiencing symptoms of the virus, it can still spread between sexual partners who has the disease.
Possible Signs And Symptoms
Herpes lesions typically surface as blisters around the mouth or genitals and rectum area. The blisters eventually break, leaving painful sores that can take several days to weeks to heal. In a typical first outbreak, a person may also experience related symptoms that include swollen glands, a fever, painful urination and body aches.
What Types of Herpes Tests Are Available?
For individuals who had engaged in unprotected sex or suspect that they may have been infected with the herpes virus, it is recommended to take a herpes test as part of a routine STI screening. Your physician will screen for the infection with a physical examination and conduct tests that may require a sample of body fluids such as blood or urine, or live viral cell samples scraped off an existing sore.
Different types of tests may be selected depending whether one is having an active outbreak with sores or is testing with no symptoms. The typical types of available herpes test include:
- Herpes Viral Culture Test
- PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Blood Test
- Antibody Detection Test
1. Virologic Testing
If an individual is experiencing the first initial outbreak with clear symptoms (within 3 days of a blister’s initial appearance), the viral culture test may be use to diagnose the infection.
Fluid sample or tissue culture are collected from the blisters and tested in a culture cup. If the virus is present, it will multiply in the fluid sample. Depending on the lab, this type of test can take anywhere from one day to two weeks to find out the results.
Viral culture testing is extremely accurate during the clear blister phase, however may not produce accurate results for recurrent lesions, ulcerated sores, or in the case of latency. During these stages, the virus may not be active enough to sufficiently reproduce to develop a visible culture.
2. PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Blood Tests
A PCR blood test can identify whether or not you have herpes even if you haven’t experienced any symptoms. This is the most common test used to diagnose the herpes infection, looking for particles of the virus’s DNA.
The test can be performed by either collecting blood, spinal fluid or fluid samples from sores.
Polymerase chain reaction tests are a lot more accurate than viral culture testing if one does not exhibit any visible symptoms or physical outbreaks. The CDC highly recommends this test for diagnosing herpes in spinal fluid when detecting for herpes simplex encephalitis, a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus, affecting the human central nervous system.
PCR makes copies of the viruses’ DNA, discovering even small quantities of DNA in the sample and can be used to identify between the two different strains of the herpes virus.
However, PCR testing is a lot more expensive than viral cultures and hasn’t been approved by the FDA for assessing genital specimens. Having said that, it’s important to note that numerous labs have used PCR for testing because it has been proven to be highly accurate.
3. Antibody Detection Testing: IgG And IgM
When an individual contracts the herpes simplex virus, their immune system responds by generating antibodies; IgG and IgM to combat the virus. The antibody detection test can look for and identify these antibodies in the blood.
Immunoglobulin G (IgG), one of the most abundant types of antibody, is present in all body fluids, protecting our body against viral and bacterial infections. IgG appears immediately after infection and remains in the blood permanently.
On the other hand, immunoglobulin M (IgM) is found in lymph fluid and blood. IgM is the first antibody to be produced by the body to fight off a new infection, however, it usually disappears soon after.
IgM testing is generally not favor as it can cross react with various other viruses in the same family, including varicella zoster virus (VZV) that causes chickenpox and cytomegalovirus, which can lead to a possibility of misleading results.
Since IgM testing can produce results that can be incorrect, labs will typically use IgG testing method to test for the antibodies in blood samples. Today there are several different types of IgG based blood tests available that have been FDA approved that can provide fairly accurate results with regard to the herpes simplex virus infection.
How Long Does It Take To Get Back Results?
The length of time needed to get the test results varies with the lab and the type of test being conducted. Most labs will however have the results within 3 to 14 days. Some labs may offer express testing services with additional charges.
What Should One Do If Results Come Back Positive?
If you have been tested positive for the herpes simplex virus, you should speak to your doctor who will recommend the most appropriate course of treatment for the infection.
Since herpes is a viral infection with no permanent cure, the treatment will typically involve antiviral medications and creams to treat the symptoms of an outbreak or to help prevent future outbreaks.
One should also take positive steps to get educated about the virus which include learning about what foods to eat or avoid, the potential triggers for future outbreak and the ways of mitigating the infection. Infected persons may still enjoy a healthy dating relationship however they will need to be oriented on the different ways of protecting their partner from an infection. Information on the subject can be provided by qualified physicians as well as support groups.
Frequently Asked Questions About Herpes Testing
- How much does a herpes test cost?
- Can I test for herpes at home without going to the doctor?
- Is herpes testing confidential?
1. How much does a herpes test cost?
The cost of a herpes test comes down to where you have the testing performed and what types of testing you have requested. Individual genital herpes blood test can cost as low as $80 while a full panel test (which include testing for a variety of STIs) can cost an estimated $350.
2. Can I test for herpes at home without going to the doctor?
At home herpes tests can’t be as effective as those performed in an actual lab. The accuracy of a home test can be compromised by a variety of errors, including how you collect the sample, storage and handling of the test sample. In addition, there’s no way a home environment can meet the same stringent standards as reputable testing labs so your tests results can be unreliable. That been said, it’s important to keep in mind that the FDA doesn’t stop companies from offering unreliable home tests, they just don’t approve them.
3. Is herpes testing confidential?
These days, most of us are worried about privacy and the same is true when it comes to our medical records. The fact is that in many countries privacy rules prevent medical records from being made available to others without the consent of the patient. In the United States, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is in place to ensure an individual’s privacy with regard to their medical information, providing protection while also ensuring access to proper health care. Still, it’s a good idea to inquire about the privacy rules in your country before you get tested as well as the quality of the lab facility you choose and anyone else you opt to share your test results with.