The Bottom Line: Tests For Herpes Are More Worry Than They’re Worth
If you do have symptoms, don’t fret: If you know your status, you’re at an advantage in that you can talk with your doctor and find an antiviral drug that works for you. Medication can curtail the severity of your symptoms, as well as the number of outbreaks you get. Additionally, taking an antiviral daily will greatly reduce your chances of transmitting the virus to someone else. In case you missed it, there’s also a very promising new drug for herpes on the horizon, which researchers say could be the most effective one yet.
What Do I Do If I Find Out I Have Herpes
Its normal to have lots of different feelings after you find out that you have herpes. You might feel mad, embarrassed, ashamed, or upset at first. But youll probably feel a lot better as time goes by, and you see that having herpes doesnt have to be a big deal. People with herpes have relationships and live totally normal lives. There are treatments for herpes, and theres a lot you can do to make sure you dont give herpes to anyone you have sex with.
Millions and millions of people have herpes youre definitely not alone. Most people get at least one STD in their lifetime, and having herpes or another STD is nothing to feel ashamed of or embarrassed about. It doesnt mean youre dirty or a bad person it means youre a normal human who got a really common infection. The reality is that herpes can happen to anybody who has ever been kissed on the lips or had sex thats a LOT of people.
Herpes isnt deadly and it usually doesnt cause any serious health problems. While herpes outbreaks can be annoying and painful, the first flare-up is usually the worst. For many people, outbreaks happen less over time and may eventually stop completely. Even though the virus hangs around in your body for life, it doesnt mean youll be getting sores all the time.
And tell anyone you have sex with that you have herpes. Its not the easiest conversation, but its an important one. Here are some tips:
Quiz: How Do I Know If I Have Herpes
by CourteneyPublished on November 23, 2018Updated on August 28, 2020
Herpes is a very common STD, and its possible to have contracted the virus and not exhibit any herpes symptoms. So how do you know if you have herpes? Before we answer that question, lets first answer some common questions about herpes.
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What Are Herpes Antibodies
Antibodies are proteins the body makes to help fight infection and prevent future infections.
HSV-1 and HSV-2 antibodies are proteins that have formed due to the presence of the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus. An immunoglobulin G blood test detects these proteins in the blood and can tell if a person has ever experienced an infection with either virus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend herpes testing for people without symptoms. There is no evidence that having a herpes diagnosis changes peoples sexual behavior and prevents herpes from spreading.
People who are pregnant may wish to have a herpes antibody test. A baby can contract herpes during vaginal childbirth. Herpes can be life threatening to newborn babies.
People may also wish to have a herpes antibody test if they:
- have had sexual contact with someone with herpes
- have a specific clinical reason for determining their HSV status
- have another reason for wanting to know their HSV status, such as having multiple sexual partners
When Should You Consider Getting Tested
Herpes is a sneaky, deceitful virus. It hides deep inside your nerve cells for unpredictable periods of time before triggering visible symptoms. In many cases, it infects the body and spreads to others without any obvious signs at all. As many as 90 percent of people infected with herpes are unaware they have the virus because theyve never experienced an outbreak.
People who dont have symptoms are more likely to transmit the herpes virus through a phenomenon known as asymptomatic shedding. This occurs when the virus sheds from the skin and spreads to others, even when no sores are present. Asymptomatic shedding is undetectable as there are no signs or symptoms, but it’s real.
According to research, at least 70% of infected people experience asymptomatic shedding of HSV-1 at least once a month. Many may even shed the herpes virus without symptoms more than six times per month.
Given that the herpes virus doesnt always trigger outbreaks and symptoms, testing is an important way to monitor your health. The CDC recommends testing if you are experiencing symptoms that could be related to herpes or if you recently had sex with a new partner who has genital herpes.
Remember, its possible that early herpes symptoms may not seem related to herpes. An initial herpes outbreak causes flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, fever and chills. These symptoms may be paired with pain, itching and redness around the affected area.
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If You Have Zero Symptoms Getting Tested Won’t Help You
The problem is that blood tests for herpes when no lesions or symptoms are present are often bullshit. I realize that’s a pretty strong word, but after speaking with doctors who have administered these tests, it’s become more and more apparent to me how misunderstood and in some cases, just plain wrong the results they give are.
Part of the reason they’re flawed has to do with the fact that most people have been exposed to HSV-1 or oral herpes. “For HSV-1, close to 100 percent of people in the U.S. are antibody-positive because they have been exposed at some point in their lives, though only a percentage of these individuals will actually get cold sores,” says Adam Friedman, the residency program director at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. He adds that blood tests can be misleading because they usually don’t detect the herpes virus itself and instead look at the level of antibodies against the virus, which is merely a sign of immune response to it.
Is There Anything Else I Need To Know About An Hsv Test
The best way to prevent genital herpes or another STD is to not have sex. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of infection by
- Being in a long-term relationship with one partner who has tested negative for STDs
- Using condoms correctly every time you have sex
If you’ve been diagnosed with genital herpes, condom use can reduce your risk of spreading the infection to others.
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How Can You Prevent Herpes
To reduce your risk of herpes, be sure you use protection whenever you have sex. If you or your partner is experiencing a herpes outbreak, talk with your healthcare provider about when you should resume sexual contact with each other.
If you have symptoms of HSV-2 or think you might have asymptomatic genital herpes, consider getting tested for herpes to know for sure.
The Everlywell at-home STD kit for men or women checks for 6 other common STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. Our STD test gives you confidential, online results only a few days after the lab receives your sampleâmaking it a convenient testing option.
Accuracy By Test Type
Two blood tests are used to screen for herpes. To ensure that an initial positive result is correct, a second test using a different method of detection is used to confirm the results.
The first test is the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay . An ELISA looks for immune proteins, called antibodies, that are produced by the immune system in response to the HSV. HSV antibodies are present even when there are no symptoms.
If the ELISA result is positive, your healthcare provider may administer a Western blot assay. This second test looks for proteins on the surface of the virus, called antigens, which serve as the virus’ “ID tag.” HSV antibodies produced in response to these antigens help the immune system target its attack.
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the accuracy of the two blood used to diagnose herpes breaks down as follows:
|Over 99%||Over 99%|
Due to its high level of sensitivity and specificity, the Western blot is considered the gold standard of herpes blood testing.
With that said, the accuracy of the tests can be affected by the timing of the tests. For an ELISA to return an accurate result, the immune system needs to produce enough antibodies to reach detectable levels.
Testing too early during the so-called window period can end up causing a false-negative result .
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Herpes Testing : What Are Your Options
Medically reviewed by Michele Emery, DNP
Are you worried you might have been exposed to the herpes virus?
First: dont panic. The HSV viruses are a lot more common than you may think, and are very manageable in most cases.
Second: if you think youve been exposed to the herpes virus, testing is going to be your first plan of action.
Take a couple deep breaths and when youre ready, read on.
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What Happens At A Sexual Health Clinic
The doctor or nurse at the sexual health clinic will:
- ask about your symptoms and your sexual partners
- use a small cotton bud to take some fluid from 1 of your blisters or sores for testing
The test cannot:
- be done if you do not have visible blisters or sores
- tell you how long you have had herpes or who you got it from
Symptoms might not appear for weeks or even years after you’re infected with the herpes virus.
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Genital Herpes Is Common Why Doesnt Cdc Recommend Testing Everyone For This Std
CDC does not recommend herpes testing for people without symptoms. This is because diagnosing genital herpes in someone without symptoms has not shown any change in their sexual behavior nor has it stopped the virus from spreading. Also, false positive test results are possible. Even if you do not have symptoms, you should talk openly and honestly about your sexual history with your doctor to find out if you should be tested for any STDs, including herpes.
Although CDC does not recommend that everyone get tested for herpes, herpes testing may be useful in some situations. Herpes blood tests might be useful
- If you have genital symptoms that could be related to herpes,
- If you have a sex partner with genital herpes, or
- If you want a complete STD exam, especially if you have multiple sex partners.
Please note that while a herpes blood test can help determine if you have herpes infection, it will not be able to tell you who gave you the infection.
During And After The Test
When you have a urine STI test, it is usually during a regular appointment. You will be asked to pee into a sample collection cup or tube. That tube or cup will be given to one of the medical staff.
Your urine sample will then be sent out to a lab or tested at the clinic. You can leave as soon as you are done giving the sample or when your appointment is finished.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Herpes
As with many STDs, people with herpes type 2 may not know they have a genital infection because they donât have any noticeable symptoms. However, in a symptomatic infection, a person may experience the following signs:
- Itching, pain, or tenderness in the genital area
- Small red bumps or white blisters
- Sores or ulcers that occur when the blisters rupture and ooze or bleed
- Scabs that develop as the ulcers heal
If youâre experiencing symptoms like these, consider testing for herpes right awayâand speak with your healthcare provider.
During a first herpes outbreak, a person may notice flu-like symptomsâincluding fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes around the groin.
When you have recurrent genital herpes symptoms, the outbreaks tend to be less frequent and less severe after the initial infection. Before the sores reappear in a recurring outbreak, symptomatic patients may notice the following symptoms:
- Burning, itching, or tingling where they first had the sores
- Pain in the buttocks, legs, and/or lower back
Why The Test Is Performed
The test is done to find out whether a person has ever been infected with oral or genital herpes. It looks for antibodies to herpes simplex virus 1 and herpes simplex virus 2 . An antibody is a substance made by the body’s immune system when it detects harmful substances such as the herpes virus. This test does not detect the virus itself.
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What The Values Mean
What does that mean for you? How common herpes comes into the calculation. It affects how likely positive tests and negative tests are to be correct. In fact, it can make a bigger difference than herpes blood test accuracy!
Let us make the reasonable assumption that around 50% of the population are infected with HSV1. Thats the virus primarily associated with oral herpes and cold sores. Its also associated with a growing number of genital herpes infections.
Then assume that 25% of people are infected with HSV2. Thats the virus primarily associated with genital herpes. In that scenario, the positive predictive value and negative predictive value are as follows.
- HSV-1: At least 94% of positive tests give the correct result, and at least 99% of negative test will be correct.
- HSV-2: At least 98% of positive tests are correct, and at least 97% of negative tests are correct.
Treatment If The Blisters Come Back
Go to a GP or sexual health clinic if you have been diagnosed with genital herpes and need treatment for an outbreak.
Antiviral medicine may help shorten an outbreak by 1 or 2 days if you start taking it as soon as symptoms appear.
But outbreaks usually settle by themselves, so you may not need treatment.
Recurrent outbreaks are usually milder than the first episode of genital herpes.
Over time, outbreaks tend to happen less often and be less severe. Some people never have outbreaks.
Some people who have more than 6 outbreaks in a year may benefit from taking antiviral medicine for 6 to 12 months.
If you still have outbreaks of genital herpes during this time, you may be referred to a specialist.
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Is There Another Type Of Over The Counter Herpes Test
Another way to test for herpes is to test the fluid from a blister when you have one. However, this type of test requires you to wait until you have a herpes outbreak before you test for herpes. This makes it unsuitable as a screening test.
In addition, because herpes causes a distinctive appearance, having herpes blisters is usually a good indication that you have herpes. Doctors often dont even test the blisters, because they can tell its herpes by the appearance. Because of this, a home test kit for herpes blisters would probably not be very useful.
For these reasons, this type of herpes test is not available over the counter. The only type of genital herpes home test kit thats generally available is the blood test for antibodies to the virus.
Best Affordable Herpes Test: Healthlabs
HealthLabs offers laboratory-based herpes tests. These may be the best option for people who do not have health insurance and those working with small budgets.
|does not require appointments and accepts walk-ins|
|Con||requires a visit to a laboratory for a healthcare professional to collect the sample|
After placing an order, the person receives a laboratory requisition form, which they need to print out and present at a laboratory. The company claims it has 4,500 laboratory locations, and individuals should receive their test results within 23 business days.
HealthLabs has three herpes tests available for purchase:
- a test for HSV-1, which costs $45
- a test for HSV-2, which costs $45
- a test for HSV-1 and HSV-2, which costs $79
People may also order at-home tests for other STIs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV.
|offers tests for early detection of herpes|
|Con||requires a visit to a laboratory|
To order either herpes test, a person must access the company website and enter their ZIP code to find their nearest testing center.
The company claims it has over 4,000 private test centers across the United States.
After ordering the herpes test, a person can walk into their local center to receive the testing. An appointment is not necessary.
The test procedure involves a simple blood test and urine sample, which typically takes a matter of minutes. A person can expect to receive their online test results within 13 days.
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How Much Does The Test Cost
The cost of testing for genital and oral herpes depends on the type of test that is performed, where the test is conducted, and whether the patient has medical insurance. Testing is often covered by insurance when ordered by a doctor, although patients may still be responsible for costs such as copays and deductibles.
How Test Accuracy Is Measure
The accuracy of all medical tests, including herpes tests, is measured based on two values: sensitivity and specificity.
Sensitivityis how often a test correctly identifies someone with a disease. A test that is 90% sensitive will correctly identify 90 people out of 100 who have the disease. Ten people will have a false-negative result.
Specificity, on the other hand, refers to a test’s ability to correctly identify someone who doesn’t have the disease. If a test is 90% specific, that means that 90 people out of 100 will be correctly diagnosed as not having a disease and that 10 people will have a false-positive result.
The higher the sensitivity and specificity, the lower the chances of a false result.
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