How do I get tested for herpes?
We make getting tested for herpes simple. The most common methods to diagnose herpes are a blood test or a viral culture test (swabbing or scraping a sample of a herpes sore or lesion). Both of these tests – known as serology or virus detection, respectively – can confirm a doctor's preliminary visual diagnosis of whether or not a person has herpes, based on a physical exam and an understanding of that person's sexual health history.
The Herpes Simplex Virus Type-Specific HSV-1/2 IgG blood test (or HSV 1/2 IgG) screens for both HSV-1 and HSV-2 antibodies. Recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this test is easy and safe (no undressing or swabbing required!)...and it's the most accurate and reliable herpes test available today. However, if you opt for a viral culture test, see your regular doctor in person since a swab test cannot be done at a standard testing facility.
What herpes test results mean
- HSV-2 antibodies present (positive): This means you may have genital herpes.
- HSV-2 antibodies not present (negative): This means you probably don't have genital herpes, unless you were recently infected and your body has not yet produced detectable antibodies...in which case, you may want to get tested again in three months to confirm that you're negative.
- HSV-1 antibodies present (positive): This means you may have oral herpes.
- Neither HSV-1 or HSV-2 antibodies present (negative): This means you probably don't have genital or oral herpes, unless you were recently infected and your body has not yet produced detectable antibodies...in which case, you may want to get tested again in three months to confirm that you're negative.
If you test positive for HSV-2, we're here to help. You'll have the opportunity to consult with a doctor on the phone right away. We'll answer your questions, prescribe treatment, and help you determine the next steps based on your specific circumstances.
Note: We do not provide a medical consult for HSV-1 positive test results because this type of herpes is usually a benign infection that is most often asymptomatic, or only results in cold sores on the lip. Please see your regular doctor for HSV-1 oral or topical treatment options.
Understanding false-positive or false-negative test results
As with most medical tests, there's a slight chance (1-4%) that a positive test result indicates an infection when there isn't one (false-positive); or a test comes back negative, despite the presence of infection (false-negative). For example, a false-negative test result can happen if an infected person tests too early for an infection to be detected...that means it's possible to get a negative test result but still have an STD.
If you're concerned about the reliability of your test results for any reason (e.g., timing, or your sexual history, or your partner's sexual history), we recommend that you get re-tested three months after your possible exposure to the virus to confirm your results...and to minimize the risk of being a carrier and potentially developing more serious symptoms down the road.
Learn more about "testing windows" – the recommended amount of time between potential exposure to an STD infection, and when screening is expected to identify the infection (or re-infection); for example, if you had unprotected sex last night and became infected with herpes, the virus wouldn't necessarily show up right away...it could take up to three months to test positive.
Last reviewed by Medical Director Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.
Lisa Oldson, MD
Medical Director, Analyte Physicians Group
"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."