Herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease; therefore, it is important to take a herpes test regularly if you are sexually active. Most adults worldwide have HSV 1 but are unaware of it. The stigma around this virus is irrational and damaging.
There are different tests that can be carried out for herpes. Which one is best for you will depend on the presence of symptoms or the area that is affected.
How to Test for Herpes
You should get a herpes test if you have had sex with someone who has the herpes simplex virus or are presenting any symptoms. Herpes testing may also be done to check for the virus in a pregnant woman.
There are a few ways that your healthcare provider might test for herpes. These include a blood sample, a swab sample, a urine or PCR test. If you visit your GP, they will likely refer you to your local sexual health clinic.
Before testing, the nurses will ask you questions about your sexual history and if you are presenting any symptoms of HSV.
Doctors may sometimes use a lumbar puncture, which involves taking a sample of spinal fluid. However, this is uncommon and linked to other issues.
HSV testing is not usually part of the regular STD screening carried out at sexual health clinics. This is because the virus is relatively harmless and does not cause any long term problems for your health.
If you would like to be tested for HSV, you must ask. The one that is chosen depends on whether you are symptomatic or not.
Herpes Blood Test
Blood testing for herpes will normally be carried out when an individual is not presenting symptoms of the herpes virus but has been in contact with someone who is infected.
A small vial of blood will be extracted from a vein in the arm. This usually only takes up to five minutes maximum.
If this test detects any antibodies of the herpes simplex virus in the bloodstream, that is enough for a herpes diagnosis. It will also be able to distinguish between HSV-1 and 2.
Herpes Swab Test
Another herpes test that is used for symptomatic individuals is a swab.
If you are presenting with symptoms of genital herpes, this test will be used to determine whether your skin lesions are a result of the herpes simplex virus or another issue.
This can seem daunting; however, they are performed regularly. They can be uncomfortable, especially if you are experiencing painful symptoms, but it is over quickly and is one of the most accurate testing methods for herpes.
These can take up to seven days to produce results but are often fairly accurate. False positives are not often a problem with these types of tests either, so you can be confident that you are getting accurate information.
Herpes Urine Test
Your doctor may carry out a urine PCR test if you experience urethral symptoms of herpes.
This is not a recommended way to test for HSV if the individual is not presenting any symptoms, as a urine test cannot detect asymptomatic HSV.
You will simply be asked to fill a vial of urine. A first-catch sample of urine is best, as herpes cells from the urinary tract are most likely to be found this way.
Test results for this type of test can take up to a week to return.
Can you Test for Herpes at Home?
It is possible to order a home STI test kit to determine if you have herpes. Many individuals prefer this method of testing as they feel ashamed or embarrassed to see a doctor about it. It is important to remember healthcare professionals see these things every day.
Test kits sent to your home will require you to carry out the test yourself and send it to the return address.
Be sure to choose a reliable test to ensure it is best for your situation by contacting your doctor and asking which one you should purchase. This matters because certain test types are better for particular circumstances.
You should also ensure you are purchasing from a reputable company and can rely on the accuracy of your test results.
There are positives to ordering home testing kits, such as staying in the comfort of your own home and getting fast results. However, they are more costly and can be difficult to navigate. This is especially the case with blood tests.
Do STI Tests Check for Herpes?
The CDC does not recommend testing for people who are asymptomatic or have not been in contact with someone who has tested positive for HSV. This is due to the failure of a positive diagnosis, changing sexual behaviours, and the possibility of false positives.
A positive HSV result can also be extremely damaging to an individual's mental health. As false positives are not particularly uncommon, healthcare professionals do not believe testing for HSV should be a part of routine checks.
Herpes testing is not a part of the regular sexual health screening done on the NHS unless someone has visible sores or blisters on their genitals.
If you would like to be tested for herpes or need more information about how testing for HSV works, you should contact your doctor.
What is Herpes?
Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It can affect the mouth (known as oral herpes) or the genitals (known as genital herpes). Though relatively harmless, herpes symptoms can be unpleasant.
There are two types of HSV. HSV-1 is the most common type of the herpes virus. It predominantly causes oral herpes and consequently sores around the mouth area. According to the World Health Organisation, 67% of people under the age of 50 have this type.
HSV-2 is sexually transmitted and primarily affects the genital area. It causes sores to appear around the genitals, thighs and bottom. HSV-2 is the primary cause of genital HSV.
Many people are unaware of how common HSV is. This causes a huge stigma around the virus, despite it rarely having any significant effects on people's long-term health or daily lives. Those infected go on to lead normal lives and are still able to have children and get pregnant.
The most notable symptom of both oral and genital herpes is painful, red blisters around the mouth or genital area, including the anus and thighs.
For an initial outbreak of genital HSV, symptoms are much more severe. These first symptoms can appear as early as a week after contact with the virus and, in some cases, will never show.
Those who are experiencing their first episode will likely experience prodromal symptoms. These are the symptoms that come before the appearance of genital sores. This can include tingling and burning on the genitals and lower abdomen or back pain.
Painful urination can also be an early symptom of genital herpes, and unusual vaginal discharge is reported in some women. Other symptoms include temperature, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue.
Any of these symptoms can appear at any time, even if you have not had sex for a long period. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor as soon as possible.
How is Herpes Transmitted?
Herpes is transmitted from skin to skin contact with someone who is infected with the herpes virus. It is most infectious during an outbreak.
Oral herpes is spread by sharing fluids or mouth to mouth contact. Sharing kitchen utensils with someone presenting with cold sores is a way of catching herpes infection.
Genital herpes is most commonly spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex. You can also catch HSV infection by sharing sex toys.
Despite genital herpes being caused primarily by HSV-2, it is also possible to get HSV-1 on the genitals. If someone is infected with HSV-1 and gives oral sex, they can pass genital HSV-1 on to their partner.
Men are less likely to catch genital herpes than women, though it does not discriminate.
When should I be tested for herpes?
If you are experiencing any of the common symptoms of herpes simplex virus type 2, you should get a test, especially if you are presenting with sores on the genitals or buttocks.
If one of your recent sex partners has tested positive for HSV, it can take up to 2 weeks for the antibodies to show up in your bloodstream. This is the only reliable test available for you if you do not have any symptoms of herpes.
The NHS does not recommend getting a test if you do not have a valid reason to believe you may have the virus.
Can I get a home test kit for herpes?
You can order a home test kit for HSV; this can either be in the form of a sore swab test or a pinprick blood test. You must use the latter if you do not have any sores on your genitals.
All at-home testing kits for HSV differ, but most will be able to distinguish between types 1 and 2. They also often contain the swabs or needles that are required, secure packaging, and an envelope with pre-paid postage.
However, it is recommended for people to visit a sexual health clinic for herpes testing. This allows you to get the correct information about HSV and the different types. It also allows your doctor to discuss what results might be expected and how to handle them.
How long would I have to wait for my herpes test results?
Swab tests for genital herpes involve the swabbing of a genital sore, where the sample is then tested for evidence of the presence of the virus. This process can take up to seven days before results are returned to you.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests involve scraping a viral culture sample from a genital sore. This test is much faster to carry out, and results are often available only 24 hours later.
Blood tests for HSV are less straightforward. Sometimes blood results may be returned on the very same day or can take up to 2/3 weeks.
Can herpes be treated?
Currently, there is no cure for herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2.
However, a lot of progress has been made in medicine when it comes to HSV. There are a number of treatment options for people suffering from painful sores, such as medication and special baths. Doctors can prescribe these to help manage pain and the frequency of outbreaks.
The first outbreak is often the worst, and some people may never experience another herpes outbreak in their lives. This is particularly common in those who have HSV-1.
Despite there being no cure for this virus, significant progress has been made in the efforts to end HSV for good.