Herpes is a viral disease that is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 and type 2. A herpes infection often causes small, painful blister looking sores on the skin or the mucous membrane of the throat, vagina, urethra, nose, mouth, and rectum. In most cases tests are done for sores in the genital area though other tests can be done from spinal fluid, urine, blood or tears sample.
Why a test for herpes may be done
- To find out whether sores in your vaginal area or in your mouth are as a result of HSV
- To find out which type of virus is causing the Herpes infection- HSV1- or HSV2
- To find out whether the partner of the person infected with the HSV is also infected
- To diagnose whether a new-born baby has acquired HSV virus from its mother during birth – if the mother has genital herpes
How to test for herpes: Types of tests available
If you are wondering how you can test for the virus, below are the four most common tests that can be done to diagnose whether one has the virus or not
- Herpes viral culture – In the viral culture test, a sample is collected from the cells or fluid from a fresh sore using cotton swab and put in a culture cup. This is the best method to identify a genital herpes infection. However the test isn’t a 100% perfect as it sometimes fails to find the virus even when present
- Polymerase chain reaction(PCR) test- The sample for the PCR test can be collected from the fluid or the cells from the sore or on the patient’s blood or any other fluid such as spinal fluid. The PCR test is done to test for the HSV virus DNA. The test can differentiate between HSV 1- and HSV-2. The test is not commonly done on skin sores but is ideal for testing the spinal fluid- commonly used to test for rare cases in which the HVS may cause an infection in the brain or around it
- Herpes virus antigen detection test – The test involves scraping cells from a fresh sore before smearing them onto a microscope slide. This test finds antigens on the surface of the cells infected with the HSV. The test can be done together with or instead of a viral culture
- Antibody test- When any virus or any other micro-organism infects the body, the immune system forms antibodies to fight the infection. The antibody test aims to identify antibodies made by the immune system to fight the herpes infection. The antibody test is not as accurate as the viral culture at finding the exact cause of specific ulcer or sore. The antibody test is not able to differentiate between an infection that occurred in the past and a current active herpes infection. The body takes time to form antibodies, as such the test may not be able to identify an infection if you have been infected recently.
Now that you know the various ways of how to test for herpes if you think you may have the virus, avoid any sexual contact until you get the results back. This can lower your chances of infecting your partner.