Myth #: A Blood Test Is The Best Way To Know If You Have Herpes
Blood tests are not always accurate and testing for herpes can be tricky. It can take two weeks to six months after being exposed to herpes before it is detected in the blood. To make matters more complicated, if you are low risk for herpes and asymptomatic, it increases your risk of a false positive result. Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against routine testing for herpes unless you or your partner have symptoms. The most accurate test is when you are able to take a swab sample from a new herpes lesion, but often times the diagnosis is made by a clinician based on your history and report of symptoms.
Because the blood test can be expensive and inaccurate, it is not typically included in a sexually transmitted disease evaluation unless you ask your provider for it specifically.
In short, if you dont have symptoms, you dont necessarily need a blood test. If you do experience an outbreak, a skin swab not a blood test is your best bet for confirmation.
Testing Options For Hsv
Your doctor can order one of two kinds of HSV tests:
The DNA test is generally more accurate. It picks up more infections than a culture, says Handsfield.
DNA tests have become the more common HSV test in the United States, he adds, and suggests that you ask your doctor to order one if youre being tested for herpes.
If a test is done, also ask your doctor to request a determination of the virus type, he says, to see if you have HSV-1 or HSV-2.
The natural course of the disease and the need for treatment for HSV-1 and HSV-2 are different, Handsfield says. With HSV-1, recurrent outbreaks are much less likely, and if they do occur are likely to be much more widely spaced.
Forty percent of people with HSV-1 have no recurrent outbreaks in the year or two after infection, and often none after that, says Handsfield.
In contrast, an infection with HSV-2 that produces symptoms often leads to outbreaks about four to five times each year. Also a person with HSV-2 is more contagious during symptom-free periods. So transmission via sex is far more likely with HSV-2 than with HSV-1, he says.
If you have HSV-2, you are more likely to benefit from ongoing antiviral therapy, says Handsfield, considering how frequent outbreaks can be with that form of the virus.
Remember, though, while a herpes blood test can help determine if you have herpes infection, the test cannot tell you who gave you the infection.
What Are The Symptoms Of Hpv And Herpes
HPV causes wart-like lesions, called genital warts, which can occur in isolation or in clusters. They may be small or large, raised or flat, or with a distinctive cauliflower appearance. They dont cause any discomfort.
Herpes lesions are more like pimples or blisters filled with fluid. Over time these lesions break open, often forming ulcers, then scab over. They are typically itchy or painful, so people having a herpes outbreak tend to feel more uncomfortable than people with HPV.
The genital lesions are the only real immediate symptom of an HPV outbreak. However, people with herpes often feel much sicker. Other symptoms of herpes include:
You May Like: Can You Transmit Herpes Without Blisters
Read Also: How Do I Live With Herpes
Whats The Difference Between Hsv
Lets start with the basics: is a cold sore really the same thing as a blister on your privates? Well, that depends. Historically, HSV-1 was called Oral Herpes usually causing sores on the mouth. HSV-2 was called Genital Herpes, predominantly causing sores on the genitals. These two strains are different, but related, viruses. However, more recently, studies show about half of all genital herpes cases are caused by HSV-1. This major increase is likely due to a few factors, one of which is an increase in oral sex practices.
So essentially both viruses, HSV-1 and 2, can cause sores on either the mouth or genitals, but they have different courses and different recommended treatment. Genital HSV-1 is much less likely to cause recurrent outbreaks, with 40% of people never having one. Plus, people who do have delayed outbreaks usually only have one or two over a three year period. On the other hand, people with an initial symptomatic outbreak caused by HSV-2 will have on average four recurrent outbreaks per year. In addition to the more common outbreaks, HSV-2 is also more likely to be transmitted even when there are no active sores.
Because the viruses behave in different ways, they are treated differently. People with HSV-2 are more likely to benefit from suppressive antiretroviral therapy to prevent outbreaks and protect sexual contacts.
Would I Know If I Had Herpes
Probably not. Most people with genital herpes have not received a diagnosis and do not know theyre infected. About 87% of people with HSV-2 do not know theyre infected. The main reason for this shocking statistic is that most cases herpes have few or no symptoms. In addition to a lack of symptoms, routine testing for people without herpes symptoms poses challenges of its own.
There are a couple of different ways to test for herpes simplex virus. Navigating them all is a bit complicated which is why herpes testing is often harder to access.
Direct TestingThe first type of herpes testing is a direct test for the virus in symptomatic people meaning people that have active herpes sores. This can be done with a herpes culture, which is a test done on a sample from the actual sore. Cultures are not clinically sensitive, which means that they report a large number of false negatives. A more sensitive way to test lesions is through DNA testing, which can also tell which type of herpes simplex virus is causing the infection.
Also, HSV serological tests have a high false positive rate, meaning that they often report an infection when there isnt one. Due to the stigma surrounding a herpes diagnosis, a false positive herpes test can have intense negative psychological health effects on a patient. Often, this causes more harm than good.
Recommended Reading: How To Test For Herpes At Home
How Is Herpes Simplex Treated
There is no cure for HSV at this time, but there are affordable treatments that can help.
Antiviral medications is the treatment of choice for HSV, Dr. Gelow said. The antiviral medicine can be used per outbreak as treatment or as a daily medicine to help prevent outbreaks and decrease risk of transmitting it to others.
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.
Read Also: How To Get Rid Of Herpes Symptoms
How Painful Is Herpes Simplex
Some people experience very mild genital herpes symptoms or no symptoms at all. Frequently, people infected with the virus don’t even know they have it. However, when it causes symptoms, it can be described as extremely painful. This is especially true for the first outbreak, which is often the worst. Outbreaks are described as aches or pains in or around the genital area or burning, pain, or difficulty urinating. Some people experience discharge from the or .
Oral herpes lesions usually cause tingling and burning just prior to the breakout of the blisters. The blisters themselves can also be painful.
How Can I Best Learn To Cope With Herpes Simplex
Some people feel distressed or embarrassed about their herpes simplex infection. Its important to understand that the herpes virus is common. For most people, herpes doesnt significantly interfere with daily life.
To cope with negative feelings, you may consider:
- Connecting with others through support groups or online forums.
- Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend or loved one.
- Speaking with a therapist.
Also Check: How Can I Get Checked For Herpes
How Can You Get Hsv
All strains of the herpes virus are extremely contagious and can be spread through saliva, sores, and skin-to-skin contact where the outbreaks occur. The herpes virus sheds, releasing traces of the virus periodically, even without visible symptoms. This means that its able to be contracted even when sores are not present. However, the virus is most contagious when sores are present.
Recommended Reading: Can You Put Vaseline On Herpes
How To Tell The Difference Between Hsv1 And Hsv2
The Herpes Simplex Virus is one ofthe most common medical conditions to affect humanity. Indeed, the World Health Organisation estimates two-thirds of people under 50 have the strain known asHSV-1. Another 417 million people have HSV-2, better known as genital herpes.Thats more than the entire population of western Europe.
There are in fact around 100known strands of the herpes virus, of which eightaffect humans. In fact, if you caught chickenpox as a child, youve already hadone form of herpes .
So, what is the difference between HSV-1 and HSV-2 and whatshould you do if you think youve caught this common illness?
Also Check: How Often Are Herpes Outbreaks
Whats The Difference Between Oral And Genital Herpes
Its an oversimplification to say that HSV-1 causes oral herpes and HSV-2 causes genital herpes, though these are the easiest definitions of each.
HSV-1 is a subtype of the herpes virus that typically causes oral herpes. This is also known as cold sores.
HSV-1 can also cause genital blisters that appear very similar to the genital blisters associated with HSV-2 virus.
Any herpes sore or blister regardless of its subtype can burn, itch, or tingle.
The HSV-2 subtype of the herpes virus causes genital sores, as well as swollen lymph nodes, body aches, and fever.
Although HSV-2 can also cause sores on the face, its much less common than genital sores.
Its difficult to look at a herpes sore and determine whether it was caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2.
To make a diagnosis, a doctor or other healthcare provider would have to take a sample of fluid from a blister lesion or take a small sample of the skin lesion and send it to a lab for testing.
Theres also a blood test available.
How Do You Know If You Have Hsv
If you have active lesions, whether around the mouth, the genitals, or any other part of your body, it is important to see your healthcare provider to undergo appropriate testing to determine the cause. Diagnosis is sometimes made clinically but can be confirmed through testing a sample of an active lesion. Blood tests can also tell if you have either of the viruses. Once you have a diagnosis, you have various options for treatment.
Also Check: How To Stop Itching From Herpes Outbreak
What Happens If I Dont Receive Treatment
Genital herpes can cause painful genital sores and can be severe in people with suppressed immune systems.
If you touch your sores or fluids from the sores, you may transfer herpes to another body part like your eyes. Do not touch the sores or fluids to avoid spreading herpes to another part of your body. If you do touch the sores or fluids, quickly wash your hands thoroughly to help avoid spreading the infection.
If you are pregnant, there can be problems for you and your unborn fetus, or newborn baby. See Im pregnant. How could genital herpes affect my baby? for information about this.
When Should I Get A Genital Or Oral Herpes Test
Testing for the viruses that cause genital and oral herpes may be ordered when a patient develops signs and symptoms of a herpes infection. Although many people who contract HSV never notice symptoms, signs of an initial infection appear 2 to 20 days after infection and depend on the type of HSV causing the infection.
When signs and symptoms of an initial infection occur, they may include:
- Small sores on the skin
- Tingling, itching, or burning on the skin
- Fever, headache, or body aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
After the initial infection, HSV remains dormant inside of the body. HSV can reactivate throughout a patients life, causing symptoms of genital or oral herpes to reappear. While the trigger for an HSV outbreak is often unknown, potential triggers include a fever, stress, physical trauma, and a suppressed immune system.
Generally, expert organizations do not recommend herpes testing for patients without symptoms. An exception may be made for certain patients, including:
- Patients who have a partner with genital herpes
- Patients seeking a more complete STD test panel, including people with multiple sexual partners
- Babies born to a mother who has HSV
You May Like: What To Do When You Find Out You Have Herpes
Are These The Only Herpes Viruses
There are actually several other subtypes of herpes viruses that are from the same family as HSV-1 and HSV-2. This family is known as Herpesviridae.
Alternatively, HSV-1 and HSV-2 are also known as human herpesvirus 1 and human herpesvirus 2 , respectively.
The other human herpesviruses include:
- Human herpesvirus 3 : Also known as the varicella zoster virus, this virus causes chickenpox lesions.
- Human herpesvirus 4 : Also known as the Epstein-Barr virus, this virus causes infectious mononucleosis.
- Human herpesvirus 5 : Also known as the cytomegalovirus, this virus causes symptoms such as fatigue and muscle aches.
- Human herpesvirus 6 : This virus can cause a serious illness in infants known as sixth disease, which is also called roseola infantum. The virus causes a high fever and distinctive rash.
- Human herpesvirus 7 : This virus is similar to HHV-6 and can cause some cases of roseola.
- Human herpesvirus 8 : This virus can contribute to a serious illness known as Kaposi sarcoma, which can lead to connective tissue cancer.
Many of these subtypes are contracted in childhood.
Risk Factors And Complications
Many people are exposed to HSV-1 as children, often between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old.
There are more specific risk factors for genital herpes. You may be at a higher risk if you:
- Are assigned female at birth
- Have had many sexual partners
- Had sex for the first time at a young age
- Have had another STI
You May Like: How Long Between Herpes Outbreaks
So Cold Sores Are Only Caused By Hsv
Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause cold sores on the mouth and face.
Although its more common for HSV-1 to cause cold sores, it isnt impossible for HSV-2 to cause them, too.
Cold sores arent the same thing as canker sores or mouth ulcers. They each have different causes and two entirely different presentations.
- are caused by the herpes simplex virus
- usually develop near the outside of the mouth, such as below your nostrils or on your lips
- cause redness and fluid-filled blisters
- usually appear in groups
- eventually break and ooze, forming a crust-like scab
- may take 2 to 4 weeks to completely heal
- may be caused by food or chemical sensitivities, dietary deficiencies, minor injury, or stress
- may develop anywhere inside your mouth, such as at the base of your gum line, inside your lip, or under your tongue
- are shaped like a circle or oval
- are typically yellow or white with a red border
- may appear solo or in groups
- usually take 1 to 2 weeks to completely heal
HSV-1 is spread through direct contact with the virus, which can be present in or around cold sores, in oral secretions , and in genital secretions .
Some of the ways it can be transmitted include:
- kissing someone on the mouth
- sharing eating utensils or cups
- sharing lip balm
- performing oral sex
The herpes virus usually affects the area where it first made contact with the body.
Some of the ways HSV-2 can be transmitted include:
How Totell The Difference Between Hsv
The most obvious difference between HSV-1and HSV-2 is where you experience outbreaks.
If you have HSV-1, your outbreaks willusually occur on the skin on your lips and around the mouth. Sometimes thesores will appear inside your mouth, and they can appear elsewhere on yourskin. HSV-1 can sometimes also appear near your eyes.
HSV-1 outbreaks often only happen aboutonce per year, although everybody is different and sometimes they occur moreoften other carriers never experiencesymptoms.
If you have HSV-2, your outbreaks willoccur on and around your genitals, buttocks and rectum:
Genital herpescan be especially painful for women and may cause a burning sensation when youpee.
HSV-2 outbreaks are usually more frequentthan HSV-1, typically happening 4-5 times per year. However, as with HSV-1,this will vary from one person to another.
Read Also: Can I Get Herpes Without Intercourse
How Alike Are Hsv
In this feature, we look at the latest scientific facts about the two types of herpes simplex virus, as well as social attitudes toward oral and genital herpes.
When many people first tell someone they have genital herpes, they start by comparing the infection to oral herpes, or cold sores. How apt is the comparison? In spite of scientific facts, the social stigma and emotional attitudes surrounding genital herpes can make it hard to compare it objectively with an oral infection that most people casually accept. Following the unspoken assumptions of our society, many people still believe there is a good herpes virus HSV-1, the usual cause of cold sores and a bad herpes virus HSV-2, the usual cause of genital herpes.