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By: RSC Editorial Team

January 5, 2024

How To Test for Herpes: Essential Tips for Reliable Screening

With billions of people across the globe afflicted with Herpes simplex virus, timely testing is important to help manage symptoms, prevent transmission, and provide peace of mind.

There are several different types of same day STD testing options available, and choosing the right test depends on several factors, including whether you have current symptoms, you know your sexual partner has herpes, or you are at a higher or lower risk for contracting the virus.

Unlike some other STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted diseases or infections), there can be a higher risk of false negatives or false positives, which can influence the type of STD test you choose to undergo.

This article outlines how to test for herpes, the testing options available, and tips to ensure you get reliable test results.

Understanding Herpes Testing: Types and Accuracy

Several different types of Herpes Simplex Virus testing options are available, and the type of test that will be administered may depend on whether you have any symptoms.

The different types of herpes tests available include:

 1.  PCR tests: Short for polymerase chain reaction, the PCR test for herpes takes a sample from an active sore and looks for evidence of the HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses. This testing method is often preferred when there are active ulcers to take a sample from.

However, this test can also be used among asymptomatic people when the sample is taken from the urinary tract. It is considered the most “sensitive” test, making it potentially the most accurate in detecting the presence of the virus.

2.  Viral cultures: For patients with an active outbreak and open sores, taking a viral culture for HSV can be an effective testing method. The test (also referred to as nucleic acid amplification test or NAT) works by taking a sample and observing it in a laboratory environment to see how the material reacts. This observational method can take several days, while other diagnostic measures may be completed within minutes.

In addition to the prolonged length of time to get results, there’s also the chance of having a false negative if the test is performed when no symptoms are present.

Both PCR and viral culture tests will usually be performed by taking a swab of an affected area. False positives are rare because it is often evident that the virus is present, and the test is performed merely to confirm positivity. False negatives, however, can occur if the testing occurs after healing has commenced and the virus isn’t present in the sample taken from the skin.

3.  Antibody tests: Antibody tests are used to detect a variety of viruses, and herpes antibody testing is no exception. The reason these tests are effective is that when your body is exposed to a virus, it creates antibodies to fight the infection. These antibodies can be detected in the blood to denote that the herpes virus is present in the body.

While antibody testing can be accurate, it’s important to note that testing too early after exposure can lead to a false negative because the body might not have had a chance to develop the necessary antibodies yet. If you receive a negative result after immediate exposure, consider scheduling a follow-up test.

Most tests will be able to diagnose whether you have HSV-1 (oral herpes) or HSV-2 (genital herpes). HSV-1 is typically associated with ulcers on and around the lips and mouth, while HSV-2 symptoms are known to occur around the genital area, anus, buttocks, or thighs. However, both versions of the virus can appear in either area of the body.

When To Get Tested: Timing and Symptoms

There are three different timeframes to take genital and oral herpes tests:

1.  During an outbreak, when you have symptoms

2.  When you are asymptomatic (meaning you have no symptoms)

3.  When you are planning to become pregnant or have recently become pregnant (as part of routine prenatal screening)

Taking a herpes test when you have sores or lesions can be helpful to confirm the presence of the virus and rule out other conditions that have similar conditions, like syphilis or cancerous lesions.

Asymptomatic testing can be helpful if you want to rule out that you have the virus, especially if you are planning on having intercourse with a new partner and you want to confirm that you have a clean bill of sexual health.

Choosing the right time for the test can be a factor, depending on whether you are trying to rule out having HSV-1 or HSV-2 in your system based on current symptoms or overall peace of mind. For swab tests, it’s ideal if take the test during an outbreak, which is classified by as little as one sore. By contrast, a blood test or antibody test is often the preferred route if you don’t currently have symptoms, such as a routine 10 panel STD test.

Because HSV-1 and HSV-2 are different viruses, the symptoms can be slightly different:

The most common HSV-2 (genital herpes) symptoms include:

  • A burning or itching sensation: In some cases, you may experience itching, burning, or tingling around the affected area a few days before an outbreak.
  • Painful sores and lesions: These can be painful or tender bumps or blisters on or around the genital and anal areas that are red in color. As the virus progresses through the body, the bumps can become open sores.
  • Painful urination: If any sores are present near the urethra, urinating can be painful.
  • Vaginal or penile discharge: Abnormal discharge may also be one of the symptoms of genital herpes.
  • Flu-like symptoms: Though not universal, flu-like symptoms like fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and body aches could accompany a herpes outbreak.

The most common HSV-1 (oral herpes) symptoms include:

  • Cold sores or fever blisters
  • Itching or tingling sensations
  • Pain or discomfort in the mouth

Repeat outbreaks have the potential to lead to herpes scars, which may fade on their own over time or require interventions like laser therapy.

It might not occur to you to get tested until symptoms appear, but asymptomatic testing is vital for your sexual health, especially if you are sexually active or have multiple partners. Interpreting herpes test results may be less reliable if you are asymptomatic, but it is not impossible. Follow-up STD tests may also be recommended.

If you do notice any of the above symptoms, it could be a sign of HSV-1, HSV-2, another STI, or an unrelated infection. Whether an STD test from Rapid STD testing helps you detect the virus and move forward or rule out other health conditions, it’s inevitably better to know what you’re dealing with instead of being left in the dark.  

Regular screening, sexual health checkups, and discussions with healthcare providers can help reduce the stigma of STIs while reducing the risk of infecting others.

Preparing for a Herpes Test: Steps and Considerations

Like any medical diagnostics test, it’s always recommended to discuss your health history and lifestyle with a healthcare provider. By being open about your sexual history, you’ll be guided toward the right types of STD tests to screen for appropriate STIs. Be sure to discuss any herpes symptoms with your healthcare provider.

Your individual circumstances may influence the type of test you have. For example, if you have classic herpes symptoms, a swab test may be recommended. On the other hand, a blood test could be recommended for asymptomatic herpes screening.

If you receive a positive test result, it’s definitely not the end of the world. While there is technically no cure for herpes, there are medications that can lessen and reduce the severity of outbreaks. Specifically, antiviral medications can help manage symptoms, reduce the frequency of outbreaks, and lower the risk of transmission to partners. Further, there are preventive steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, including various safe sex practices.

It’s important to note that you should be honest with current and future partners to ensure they are informed and help lessen the chance of spreading the virus. If you are concerned about the emotional impact to your psyche, professional counseling or therapy is available.

Either your healthcare provider or a professional counselor can provide personalized guidance and about how to move forward with a positive HSV-1 and HSV-2 diagnosis. Speaking with a counselor can help you manage any resulting stress or anxiety from the diagnosis.

Get Peace of Mind With an STD Test

Whether you have zero symptoms or sores that look like the classic images in a Google search, the only way to confirm whether you have HSV-1 or HSV-2 is by getting an STD test. For fast and anonymous testing, Rapid STD Testing offers a rapid STD test so that you can get peace of mind or begin to make plans to reduce the severity of symptoms and keep your partner(s) safe.

Medically Reviewed By DR. HARSHI DHINGRA,Pathologist (MD) on May 07,2024

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By: RSC Editorial Team
January 5, 2024

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