How to Diagnose Herpes

What to do if you notice symptoms

If you notice something out of the ordinary and think that it could be herpes (or some other STI) you should visit your health care provider as soon as possible. Your Doctor will examine your condition and, if necessary, will take a swab of the infected tissue or a herpes blood test if no active symptoms are present.

If you have active symptoms and the sores have not yet healed you should ask your Doctor for a specific virus culture or assay for the herpes virus. Blood tests are generally used in cases where no visible symptoms are present.

What to expect when you go to the Doctor

We all know that it can be difficult finding the courage to go to the Doctor but a professional diagnosis is important.

Firstly, you may be worrying about nothing and an accurate diagnosis can put your mind at ease Secondly, there are many conditions that can be confused with herpes and a clinical test is usually necessary.

Your Doctor will be able to help you determine exactly what is causing the irritation, as well as discuss effective treatment options and help you to learn how to manage your condition.

The initial examination may involve

  • Discussing your sex life, such as how many partners you have had, if you have changed partners recently and whether you use condoms
  • Visual examination of the genital area
  • A thorough health examination

For Men

The examination will usually include a close look at:

  • The penis
  • Scrotum
  • Rectum
  • Discharge from the urethra
  • Any blisters or skin lesions characteristic of herpes
  • Swabs of the urethra and anus are sometimes taken for laboratory samples

For Women

The examination will usually include:

  • A pelvic examination with a speculum to inspect the cervix and vagina
  • Inspecting the labia and the area between the vulva and anus for signs of infection
  • Swabs of the cervix and anus are sometimes taken for laboratory samples

For both men and women

  • The lymph nodes should be checked because swollen lymph glands often accompany herpes blisters or skin irregularities

If you have noticed what looks like Herpes Symptoms you should visit your Doctor (or other health care provider) as soon as possible, while the signs and symptoms are still present. Your Doctor will examine your condition and should take a swab or sample of the infected tissue. This can be analyzed for herpes.

Available types of Herpes Tests

There are several tests that are used to diagnose herpes, some are more accurate then others.

If you have NO symptoms of herpes

Herpes 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 herpes test, which can accurately distinguish HSV-2 from HSV-1 antibodies. Most commercially available kit assays currently cannot make this distinction despite their claims.

If you have “active” symptoms of herpes

If active symptoms are present and the sores are not healed one 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.

Tests that are NOT recommended

Some clinics will use diagnostic tools other than the recommended tests. Among these, two are generally NOT recommended:

  • Tzanck test
  • Pap smear

Neither of these are specific tests for herpes.

A Pap smear is not a specific test for herpes and so the virus can go overlooked or be misdiagnosed, especially if no active symptoms are present at the time of the smear. When testing for herpes it is important that your Doctor perform a test specifically for the herpes virus.

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