Herpes testing is one of the more difficult STD tests to perform and analyze.
Many of those infected with herpes never even know they have the virus until weeks, months, or possibly years later. During this time, they could be spreading it to others as well.
Many of the herpes screening tests can result in false negatives, because the herpes virus can lie dormant for so long. However, tests like the Western Blot and the PCR blood test are very accurate in diagnosing herpes.
Herpes testing is done by collecting either a blood, tissue
(from a herpes lesion or sore), or from spinal fluid.
If you notice something that isn't quite right “down there", you should schedule an STD test immediately.
While no one is ever 100 percent
comfortable with discussing their sexual history and activity, treatment
and preventing the spread of an STD is not only the right thing to do
for your health, it is the right thing to do for the health of others.
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is responsible for cold sores as well as genital herpes.
Picture used courtesy of a Creative Commons license with the kind permission of Sim Dawdler and Flickr
Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1) is the more common and less severe form of herpes that causes cold sores on the lips. HSV-1 is generally spread by kissing or by sharing eating utensils (such as spoons or forks) when sores are present. HSV-1 can also be spread to the genital area.
Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2), mostly known as genital herpes, is the type that causes sores in the genital area, and is often called genital herpes. This type also causes the herpes infection seen in babies who are delivered vaginally in women who have genital herpes. Genital herpes is one of the most common STDs with an estimated 45 million people infected.
As you probably know, herpes is spread through contact, even if a sore is not visible. Most people infected with genital herpes have very minor symptoms or no symptoms at all for weeks or months.
Once the first herpes outbreak occurs, the skin on or near the sex organ becomes inflamed, itchy, and painful. Next, blister-like sores appear, which then open, scab over, and heal. Sometimes, the person could have a fever, aches, painful urination, or a headache, but not always.
The first outbreak of genital herpes can last for several weeks. After the outbreak, the virus retreats to the nervous system, where it lies dormant until the next outbreak. Usually, subsequent outbreaks are less severe than the first, and occur less and less over time.
There may be a period of weeks, months, or even years between outbreaks. Illness, stress, surgery, or menstruation have all been cited as outbreak triggers.
Once a person is infected with herpes, they have the virus for life. Using condoms and antiviral drugs can reduce the risk of spreading genital herpes, but neither of these methods are guaranteed.
Several methods are used in herpes testing, such as the Western Blot, the PCR blood test, lesion culture tests, and antigen detection.
The Western Blot is considered the most accurate herpes test available. However, not every doctor's office offers the Western Blot, so you'll have to do a little research first. Western Blot tests either use a piece of tissue (from a herpes lesion) or from a blood sample.
The Western Blot delivers results as a positive or negative (or inconclusive), no confusing numbers. The Western Blot is also used to test for other illnesses, such as HIV and Lyme Disease.
The PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) blood test looks for the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) DNA in the blood. Spinal fluid can also be used in some cases. The PCR blood test is nearly as accurate as the Western Blot and is one of the more common herpes blood tests.
In addition, the PCR blood test can distinguish between HSV-1, the virus that causes the common cold sore, and HSV-2, the virus most associated with genital herpes.
Another type of herpes testing analyzes the blood for herpes virus antibodies. This is done via blood sample. However, these antibodies take several weeks or months to build up. If the test is performed too early, it could result in a false negative.
Once the antibodies are built up, they remain the body for life, just like the herpes virus.
Currently, no cure exists for herpes. Drugs like Famvir, Zovirax, and Valtrex can decrease the pain related to an outbreak, can shorten the healing time, and can decrease the total number of outbreaks. Topical (applied directly to skin) antivirals like Acyclovir, Penciclovir, and Docosanol are also used.
Research has been conducted on alternative herpes treatments with supplements like echinacea, L-lysine, zinc, lemon balm, licorice root cream, and aloe vera.
However, these studies are ongoing and more than likely, won't cure herpes, but may reduce symptoms and discomfort.