How Is Genital Herpes Spread
- Saliva from a partner with an oral herpes infection
- Genital fluids from a partner with a genital herpes infection
- Skin in the oral area of a partner with oral herpes or
- Skin in the genital area of a partner with genital herpes.
You also can get genital herpes from a sex partner who does not have a visible sore or is unaware of their infection. It is also possible to get genital herpes if you receive oral sex from a partner with oral herpes.
You will not get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools. You also will not get it from touching objects, such as silverware, soap, or towels.
If you have more questions about herpes, consider discussing your concerns with a healthcare provider.
Finding Out The Hard Way
No good data exist on how often patients with questionable positive results are actually re-tested. Until the 2015 update, CDC herpes testing guidelines had no mention of confirmatory testing for low-positive results, said Johnston. So patients often discovered the option not through their doctors, but through searching the web and reading online herpes forums.
That was the experience of Bryan, a 40-year-old man who lives in Indiana, who wrongly believed he had herpes for about two months in 2011. The misunderstanding actually put him at higher risk, he said: During those months he considered joining the hundreds of thousands of Americans on dating sites for herpes-positive people. Exclusively dating people with herpes would have increased his likelihood of contracting the virus.
The experience of YT, a 33-year-old mom who has suffered from frequent herpes symptoms over the last year, shows another side of the testing breakdown. She believes she was given HSV by a partner who didnt realize herpes wasnt included in his previous STD tests, she told STAT. Having herpes has caused her significant emotional trauma, and has driven her to permanently swear off dating. Had her partner known his true status, she wonders if her story would have been different.
People call and say, I just dont know whats going on, he said. Weve almost become de facto counselors.
How Is Genital Herpes Treated
There is no cure for genital herpes, but treatment can help. Self-care can relieve symptoms and help sores heal. Medicine can shorten an outbreak and also relieve symptoms.
Self-care for genital herpes
Dermatologists recommend the following self-care tips for their patients who have an outbreak:
Keep sores clean and dry.
Wear loose-fitting cotton underwear.
If an area feels painful, place a cold compress on it.
To cleanse and sooth painful sores, reduce itchiness, or decrease tenderness, take an Epsom salts bath. You want to soak for 10 to 20 minutes.
Medicine for genital herpes
To treat genital herpes, your dermatologist may prescribe one of these antiviral medicines:
Taking medicine is recommended for anyone who has a weakened immune system. With a weakened immune system, your body will likely need help to get rid of sores and symptoms. Without medicine, sores may not clear and symptoms can linger. You should continue taking the medicine until all sores have completely healed.
Medicine works best when started within 24 hours of getting a herpes sore.
If one of the medicines listed above fails to bring relief, you may need another medicine. For a severe infection, getting acyclovir through an IV may be necessary. Other antiviral medicines may also be an option.
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Can Herpes Simplex Virus Cause Serious Infections
Yes. The most serious, or life-threatening, HSV infections can occur in newborns who are infected during birth and in individuals with weakened immune systems , such as organ transplant recipients and people with HIV/AIDS. Neonatal herpes is a serious condition, but also very rare. While 25-30% of pregnant women have genital herpes, less than 0.1% of babies born in the U.S. each year get neonatal herpes. This means that most women with genital herpes give birth to healthy babies.
HSV lesions tend to be more extensive and persist longer in newborns and immunocompromised people than in individuals who have healthy immune systems.
When Should I Talk With A Doctor
If you have a primary care doctor who you regularly visit, you can share your results with them to provide better insight into your next steps.
If you dont have a primary care doctor, you can consult with a physician or nurse from the testing site about treatment options.
If youve been treating your symptoms with medication and are still in pain or discomfort, reach out to a healthcare professional.
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How Common Is Genital Herpes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 40 million to 50 million adults in the United States have genital herpes. HSV II infection is more common in women and in people who have had more than five sexual partners. Most people with HSV II do not know they have it, because it does not always cause symptoms.
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How Can People Test For Herpes
A person can ask for a herpes test at any sexual health clinic or a doctors office. A healthcare professional will either swab a blister or draw a blood sample.
At-home herpes tests often require a blood sample through a finger prick.
Once a person receives their test results, they should contact a doctor to discuss treatment options, if necessary.
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Can I Still Have Sex If I Have Herpes
If you have herpes, you should talk to your sex partner about their risk. Using condoms may help lower this risk but it will not get rid of the risk completely. Having sores or other symptoms of herpes can increase your risk of spreading the disease. Even if you do not have any symptoms, you can still infect your sex partners.
You may have concerns about how genital herpes will impact your health, sex life, and relationships. While herpes is not curable, it is important to know that it is manageable with medicine. Daily suppressive therapy can lower your risk of spreading the virus to others. Talk to a healthcare provider about your concerns and treatment options.
A genital herpes diagnosis may affect how you will feel about current or future sexual relationships. Knowing how to talk to sexual partners about STDs is important.
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.
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How To Diagnose Herpes
Genital herpes is typically diagnosed through examination by a medical professional and a blood test. If you suspect you have genital herpes , you can take an antibody test.
To test for 6 other common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis, try the Everlywell home STD Test for women or the STD Test for men. After you collect your sample at home, it is received and analyzed at the lab, and the test results are sent to you quickly and discreetly via our secure, online platform.
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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How Can I Prevent Herpes
Its not advisable to participate in oral sex with someone who has any type of HSV, especially when they are showing symptoms as it can easily be passed from the mouth to the genitals. There are a few key steps you can take to prevent herpes which are:
CondomsA latex condom may protect you from the herpes virus if it covers the infected areaAsking Dont be afraid to ask your sexual partner if they or have previously had an STD especially if you notice symptoms
Cold SoresIf someone has a cold sore avoid coming into sexual contact with them, as they are likely to pass the herpes virus onto you
TestingIf you notice any symptoms in yourself or a partner, then be sure to get tested for herpes to ensure you have havent contacted the virus or any other STD
Be CarefulIf your intoxicated, your judgment might be impaired and youre less likely to use the right protection which could lead to you contacting genital herpes
If you would like to learn more about STIs and the history behind them check out this blog.
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Genital Herpes Treatment In Pregnancy
You may be offered antiviral treatment:
- to treat outbreaks in pregnancy
- from 36 weeks to reduce the chance of an outbreak during birth
- from diagnosis until the birth if you first get herpes after 28 weeks of pregnancy
Many women with genital herpes have a vaginal delivery. You may be offered a caesarean, depending on your circumstances.
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What Is The Process Of Testing For Herpes
If you have a blister or sore, your local healthcare provider will test for herpes by taking a swab of fluid from the sore. Your doctor will send this sample to a laboratory for a viral culture to determine whether you have herpes. Its best to get the sore tested within 48 hours of its appearance.
If you dont have sores, your doctor can take a blood sample to test for herpes. This test looks for herpes simplex virus antibodies which let your healthcare provider know that you have had a past herpes infection.
Another way to test for herpes is with a polymerase chain reaction test. This test uses PCR to make a copy of your DNA using blood, spinal tissue, a tissue sample from a suspected herpes sore. This test can then examine your DNA for the presence of HSV and identify which type of HSV is present.
The Accuracy Of Various Herpes Tests
This table summarizes the overall accuracy of different herpes tests. Please especially pay attention to the most common test, the IgG testÃ¢and most importantly to its false positive and false negative rates.
The table has three columns:
- Test accuracy: how accurate is the test in detecting the herpes virus
- False positive: the test detects the presence of herpes, but the person doesnÃ¢t actually have it
- False negative: the test doesnÃ¢t detect the presence of herpes, but the person does have it
Please note: the numbers in the table are averages and may vary from case to case based on factors such as when the test is performed , the testing technique, and the herpes viral load.
|Commercially available IgG test: 94%Washington University test: > 99%||Commercially available IgG test: up to 19%Washington University test*: 0%||Commercially available IgG test: up to 38%Washington University test*: 0%|
* The Washington University test is considered the Ã¢gold standardÃ¢ blood test. The false-negative and false-positive rates for the commercially available IgG test are based on a comparison to the Western blot results of the Washington University test.
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Testing For Genital Herpes
If you think you may have genital herpes you should make an appointment with your GP or local sexual health services.
If there are symptoms present such as blisters, sores and ulcers, your doctor or nurse may be able to make a diagnosis straight away.
If you have visible blisters, your doctor or nurse may take a swab for testing, to check if this is herpes and what type. This swab can also test for another STI which causes blisters called syphilis.
The genital herpes swab tests are very reliable, though if the ulcer is too dry then it may be less likely to find a positive result.
When Are Herpes Tests Accurate
In the table below, we summarize information about the timing of herpes testing.
One of the most important factors in any infectious disease testing is doing it at the right time. This means two things in the case of herpes:
- For the blood test to be accurate, the right amount of time needs to have passed
- The swab test should be done while symptoms are âfreshâ
For each available herpes test, we will mention:
- The earliest testing time
- The ideal testing time
|Test type||Ideal time|
|Swab||The swab test may be performed as soon as the first blisters appear .Technique: A doctor scrapes the fresh lesion, collecting skin and fluid. To get accurate test results, this should be done within 48 hours of the appearance of the lesion .Note that technique and timing are important. This test is not commonly done for that reason,|
|Blood test for IgG||
||12 weeks after the initial exposure, over 92% of infected people are positive|
Get treated and/or tested for herpes
Same day treatment and testing
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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.
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.
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How Do You Get Checked For Herpes
There are three ways that you can get checked for herpes:
Blood Test for HSV Antibodies
Blood testing for HSV 1 & 2 antibodies is the most common method of testing for herpes infection. This is because it can detect if youre infected with herpes, even if youre asymptomatic.
A viral culture can be performed with a urine sample or a swab of the suspected infected area. The sample will be used to see if the virus grows in a lab culture. It is a good choice to confirm you have the virus if youre experiencing symptoms, but it is only effective if the virus is active in a sore or lesion.
PCR Herpes Testing
PCR testing looks for HSV DNA from a blood sample or from a lip or genital sore. It can determine the difference between HSV-1 and HSV-2. PCR testing is expensive, but it is fast and efficient.