What herpes can look like
Firstly, the symptoms of herpes vary greatly from person to person. Herpes symptoms can sometimes resemble a paper cut, tear, pimple, blister, bump, cut, sore or a rash in the infected area.
Itching, burning and tingling is sometimes felt before any blister or sore appears. When the herpes virus is active and has broken out at the skin’s surface it typically develops into a fluid filled blister which ulcerates, begins to form a dry scab and then heals.
The herpes virus is normally only active on the skin for a short period of time before it retreats back inside the body, at which point the skin typically heals and returns to normal.
Duration of Symptoms
Depending on the individual, the symptoms of a herpes infection can last as long as six weeks, but…
- The typical duration of a genital outbreak is 3 to 14 days
- The typical duration of a cold sore outbreak is 8 to 12 days
If the infection persists for longer periods of time (e.g. months) without relief it is possible that the cause is something other than herpes (such as hormonal acne, an allergy, etc).
Herpes Blood Tests
There are several tests that are used to diagnose herpes. Some are more accurate than others and lots of people need to be tested more than once.
When there are no visible symptoms
Blood tests are generally used in cases where no visible symptoms are present. A blood test works by detecting the presence of herpes antibodies. There is a possibility that the virus will not show up in a blood test, and a positive result is not always indicative that a person has genital herpes.
Firstly, after the first exposure to herpes, a person may take several weeks to develop the antibodies that the test looks for. Usually, it takes two weeks to three months after exposure to herpes for antibodies to appear in the blood. Some blood tests detect antibodies sooner than others. However, once antibodies are found they remain in the body for life.
Secondly, blood tests cannot tell the difference between the two types of herpes, HSV-1 and HSV-2. For this reason, anyone seeking an accurate diagnosis of genital herpes must be sure to get a “type-specific” serologic test, which can accurately distinguish HSV-2 from HSV-1 antibodies. Most commercially available kit assays currently cannot make this distinction despite their claims.
When symptoms are present
If active symptoms are present and the sores are not healed you should request a specific virus culture or assay for the herpes virus. A Viral culture looks for the presence of the virus in the lesion. This method is very specific and does not frequently give a positive result when something else is the culprit.
The viral culture often misses herpes even when it is present. Often a patient who has received a negative culture result will be asked to come back again when a new genital lesion appears so the culture can be tried a second or third time.
If you have been experiencing unusual symptoms or feel that you or your partner may have been exposed to an STD you should visit your Doctor as soon as possible for a herpes test.