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Tests available for herpes detection
Jun 24, 1997

Is there any efficient way of testing for herpes that is available to the public? I am interested in knowing about a test taht can be performed when no herpes lesions are present. My girlfriend kissed me and gave me oral sex when she had a herpes cold sore in her lips. I haven't had any sores or lesion, yet. This happen almost a year ago, and I am still wondering whether I am infected? Please help!!

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. Herpes is best diagnosed when a person is actively showing symptoms of the infection. Information about symptoms related to Herpes can be found in the post, "How is herpes transmitted exactly...fluid mucosal contact?" There are blood tests that can be used to detect Herpes infection, but these tests have little clinical value. These tests cannot distinguish between Herpes infection on the mouth, genitals, or anus. If a person became infected with oral herpes many years ago, the test would show positive. Likewise, if a person became infected with genital herpes only a few months ago, the test would also show positive.

It is estimated that about 90% of adults have antibodies against the Herpes Simplex viruses. False positive and false negative tests can also occur from time to time. If a person were to test positive on the test, this does not affect clinical management or treatment of Herpes infection. Therefore, these tests are of little clinical value.

If a person were to get a Herpes antibody test when no symptoms were present, and the result is negative, this tells you that you never had the infection. If you never had any symptoms consistent with Herpes after your exposure, it's unlikely you became infected from this woman. But if you test positive, all it means is that sometime in your life, you became infected. A positive test will not tell you if this woman was the source of the infection.

The best tests to diagnose Herpes infection are Culture tests. However, these tests can only be done when a person is symptomatic for the infection. Very often, the trained physician or clinician can diagnose the infection based on visual appearance and clinical history of the patient. Viral cultures and Herpes antigen tests can be used to verify the diagnosis.

In your specific case, there is no clinical need to get tested. Whether you would test positive or negative would not change anything. If in the future, you have any symptoms consistent with Herpes, please see a physician while you are showing symptoms, preferably, as soon as visual symptoms begin. This is when symptoms are easiest to diagnose. If a person has had Herpes in the past, but they are having recurrent outbreaks more often, or if the outbreaks become more severe, they should also see their physician. This is the same advice I'd give anyone, regardless of whether that person has been previously tested or not.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).



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