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Genital herpes is a common infection that causes small, painful sores on mucous membranes such as the mouth, nose, and genital area. Herpes results from one of two viruses — herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes, which forms blisters around the mouth and nose, while HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes, which forms blisters in the genital area.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 47% of American adults between 14 and 49 carry HSV-1, and 11.9% of adults carry HSV-2. These infections are lifelong, and there is no cure for herpes, so testing is essential to prevent the spread of the virus.
How long does a herpes test take to get results? At Rapid STD Testing, we can give you results within a few days, helping keep you and your partner safe.
Do I Need to Get a Herpes Test?
Most HSV infections are asymptomatic, so patients don’t display symptoms despite carrying the virus. Unfortunately, even people without symptoms can transmit the virus to their sexual partners, and while most infections are mild, they can cause severe discomfort in certain vulnerable populations.
Who Should Get Tested for Herpes?
The CDC generally recommends that only people that show symptoms of herpes should get tested. These symptoms include:
- Itching and tingling that develops into small, painful blisters that take approximately a week to heal
- Flu-like symptoms including fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and fever
The reason why the CDC doesn’t recommend herpes testing for everyone is that current stand-alone herpes tests are less accurate than those commonly found on a 10-panel STD test from Rapid STD Testing. Herpes tests have a higher probability of a false-positive result than most tests, meaning that they may indicate that you have herpes when you don’t.
Why Does Testing Matter?
As with any other STD test, the main reason to get a herpes test is to allow you and your partner to make informed decisions about your sexual health as a couple. While herpes is infectious, couples can take precautions to reduce the chance of infection, such as avoiding sexual contact or taking anti-retroviral drugs during an outbreak.
Having a clear diagnosis also helps your healthcare provider to recommend treatment options. While outbreaks are not dangerous, they can be extremely painful and unpleasant and take a week or more to subside. Healthcare practitioners can recommend treatment options that reduce the severity and duration of an outbreak, which lessens your discomfort and reduces the risk of transmission to any sexual partners.
What Does a Genital Herpes Screening Entail?
Testing for genital herpes involves looking for evidence of the virus through direct viral culture, PCR, or antibody testing. Your healthcare provider will decide which test is best for your current situation.
How Long Does It Take for Herpes to Show Up?
Herpes has an incubation phase that can last up to 12 days after exposure. This phase is where the virus replicates and builds up in your body, and when the virus reaches a critical mass, you’ll start to experience symptoms.
Testing during this phase can be tricky, as there may not be enough virus particles or antibodies to produce an accurate result. That’s why waiting until you show symptoms of an outbreak is the best option for determining whether or not you have genital herpes. However, if your partner shows signs of a herpes outbreak, you can consider our Rapid STD Testing’s early detection testing for herpes that is more sensitive within the incubation phase.
The Testing Process
Healthcare practitioners will use one of several tests to determine if you have HSV. The two most common tests are a swab test and a blood test, though a urine test is available and, in rare instances, doctors may recommend a lumbar puncture to determine if the virus is causing a life-threatening infection of the spinal cord.
How Long Does a Herpes Swab Test Take?
A herpes swab test involves the clinician taking a swab from an active lesion. This swab will contain fluid and cells that may contain HSV, which lab technicians will try to detect using one or more of the following:
- A viral culture that involves trying to grow the virus in the lab from the swab
- A viral antigen test that looks for specific viral proteins
- A PCR test that detects viral genetic material.
The procedure typically lasts a few seconds, and you should have results within several days.
How Long Does a Herpes Blood Test Take?
Blood testing involves a physician or nurse taking a blood sample and looking for antibodies against HSV-1 and HSV-2. Most doctors will typically recommend blood tests if you don’t have a current outbreak, as antibody testing is less accurate than other testing methods.
A blood test typically takes around five minutes to perform, and depending on the type of test, you can get results within 15 minutes in the case of same-day STD testing from Rapid STD Testing. If the physician has to send the test away to the lab, you’ll need to wait several days before getting your results.
Now that you know how long herpes tests take, let’s look at what the test results might indicate.
What Do the Results Mean?
Tests will usually have either a positive (abnormal) or negative (normal) outcome. It’s helpful to understand how to interpret your results.
Negative means that the test didn’t detect the presence of the virus or antibody (depending on the test), and you likely don’t have herpes.
As some tests are less sensitive than others, you could possibly receive a false negative and still have an HSV infection. This is generally a problem if you get a test during the initial incubation phase when virus and antibody levels are low.
If you get a negative result but still show symptoms of a herpes outbreak, speak to your physician and consider getting retested.
Positive Rapid STD Testing results mean that the test found evidence of an STD in your sample, and some tests will even be able to tell if you have HSV-1 or HSV-2. If you receive a positive diagnosis, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options and keeping your sexual partners safe.
While HSV is a lifelong infection with no cure, most people experience one or two outbreaks in their lifetime. If you experience more frequent outbreaks, your physician should be able to prescribe medication that lessens the severity and duration of each incident.
As with a negative result, some tests have the potential of giving a false-positive result, which means that you don’t have an infection, but the test says you do. These false positives are the main reason why the CDC recommends testing for symptomatic cases, where the physician will use the test and other physical attributes to make their final diagnosis.
Lowering Your Genital Herpes Risk
Herpes transmission occurs during person-to-person contact, typically vaginal, anal, and oral sex. As with many other STD prevention tips, you can protect yourself and your partner by taking precautions such as:
- Always use condoms and dental dams during sex: Physical barriers can prevent viral transmission if the barrier covers the infected areas. This method won’t work if the sores are in unprotected areas, such as the rectum or labia.
- Don’t have sex during an outbreak: Viral loads are highest during an outbreak, making this the most dangerous time to transmit the virus.
- Avoid having sex if you feel an oncoming outbreak: Most people with genital and oral herpes experience tingling in an affected area before an outbreak. Recognizing these warning signs can reduce your chances of infecting a partner.
- Don’t touch your sores, or wash your hands after doing so: The fluid from herpes lesions contains millions of viral particles, which remain active and infectious when you touch other parts of your body.
- Avoid kissing if you or your partner have cold sores: Cold sores can transmit viral particles through saliva and lesion fluid.
- Consider alternative forms of intimacy: Not all sexual intimacy requires genital-genital or oral-genial contact. Explore other opportunities for intimacy that reduce your risk of transmitting STDs.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about medication: Anti-herpes medication helps your body fight back against HSV, and taking it daily can reduce your viral load and make transmission to a partner less likely.
Protect Yourself and Your Partner With Rapid STD Testing
Knowing your STD status can empower you and your partner(s) to make smart, informed decisions about your sexual health and also foster trust and intimacy. Get in touch with us at Rapid STD Testing to order a test or panel, or visit your local STD testing center to get peace of mind for you and your partner.