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How to Get Tested for Herpes

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  • There are multiple tests that can be done to diagnose herpes
  • Within 48 hours after the sores develop, ask your doctor if you can take a herpes viral culture of lesions
  • You may also be asked to undergo either a PCR test or a blood test to determine if you have herpes or not

Testing for herpes and other types of STIs is important, but how do you know which test you should take? The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) has an infographic that you can use as a reference, especially if you may have herpes.1

Herpes Viral Culture of Lesions

If you observe herpes symptoms like lesions or sores, a herpes viral culture of lesion may be helpful. This will involve taking a swab sample from the sores2 at least 48 hours after they develop. In about a week, you will receive your results. This method has both positives and negatives:3

Pros — A herpes viral culture may indicate if you have a positive result, and will determine if the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus is responsible for the infection.

Cons — A high rate of false negatives has been attributed to this test, as certain factors can affect the outcome. Results may be less accurate if the:

Swab sample is too small (the test’s accuracy depends on how much of the pathogen is present in the culture)

Sores are beginning to heal or if you take the test more than 48 hours after the symptoms first appear

Test is done during or after a herpes recurrence

Nucleic-Acid Amplification Testing (NAAT or NAT)

This test is the typically preferred diagnostic method for herpes. There are multiple NAAT methods available, but the Polymerase Chain Reaction test is the most widely used.4 According to the Mayo Clinic, the PCR test is performed with blood samples, tissues derived from a sore or spinal fluid. Its main goal is to determine presence of the herpes virus and the type of virus affecting you.5 A PCR test is said to be highly accurate for multiple reasons, such as its:

  • Speed to determine if the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus is present even if you don’t exhibit symptoms6
  • Ability to produce multiple duplicates of the pathogen7
  • Lower risk for a false negative result8

You can expect results within one day.9 However, a PCR test has some cons too, as it can cost more.10

Antibody or Blood Tests

Your physician can also suggest an antibody or blood test (either type-specific blood tests11 or general herpes blood tests12) that may aid in looking for the herpes virus even before symptoms manifest. These tests search for immunoglobulin (IgG) antibodies that may help you and your doctor determine which of the herpes viruses is responsible for an infection.13 You’ll need to provide a small blood sample and have it sent to a laboratory.14

While your doctor can recommend that you undergo an antibody or blood test, Kaiser-Permanente notes that these tests aren’t as accurate compared to the viral culture in determining the cause of herpes.15 Furthermore, laboratories don’t all use the same blood test, and this may affect the length of time the antibodies can be detected. As such, you may receive results either within the day, or within a couple of weeks or months.16 It’s also possible for the test to produce a false negative result if you take it too long after exposure to the virus.17

Antibody or blood tests aren’t ideal if you’ve had a previous herpes outbreak. Once your body has developed antibodies against the herpes virus, they can remain in your body even if you were healed from the first infection. The virus often becomes dormant18,19 and waits until certain triggers reactivate them.20,21


Herpes: Introduction

What Is Herpes?

Herpes Types

Herpes Causes

Herpes Stages

Herpes Symptoms

Herpes Prevention

Herpes Diagnosis

Herpes Treatment

Living With Herpes

Herpes FAQ

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Herpes Prevention

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Herpes Treatment

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