038: #askalexandra What types of herpes tests are there?
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Life With Herpes PodcastWelcome to episode 38 of Life With Herpes! This is another #AskAlexandra episode, and I love these because we get to connect. I love finding out what is going on with you and being able to support you and your life with herpes.
If you're new to the show, the #AskAlexandra episodes are dedicated to answering your questions. If you want to join in the fun and ask your question just go to the Life With Herpes home page and look for the #AskAlexandra section. Click on it and fill out the form with your question.
And speaking of questions, today's is another great one. It comes from Katie in Seattle, Washington. She wants to know what types of herpes tests are out there.
Again, I love that you asked this Katie because it's something we all need to know when confirming we do have herpes, and when talking to our partners about it. There are chances for false positives and false negatives so it's important to understand the different tests and options on the market today. Join me to hear what they are on episode 38 of Life With Herpes
More About Life With HerpesLet's look at the two primary ways to get tested for herpes, the first way is when you have sores and you go to your doctor. They take a swab of your wound and send it to the lab. This is called a cell culture test.
Another testing method is through a blood test. They draw your blood and look for any herpes antibodies in your blood. This is called the PCR blood test.
In my case, I went into my gynecologist for my annual pap smear. I told my doctor I was in pain and didn't know if it was just a really bad yeast infection, or if it was something else. She thought it looked like a yeast infection but she tested me for herpes just to be sure. So she took a swab and sent it off to the doctor, and she drew some blood. She wanted to be absolutely sure I had or did not have herpes. When the results came back positive it was doubly confirmed I did indeed have herpes.
But not everyone gets that double confirmation so there can be false negatives. The most common way this happens is if you have sores that are in the healing stage and your doctor takes a swab of those sores. You may not test positive because the virus may be gone.
That's something to consider with the swab test, you may want to do the blood test or both the swab test and the blood test. This is especially true if this was your first outbreak because it can take time for the virus to get into your bloodstream.
Tweetable: “The herpes virus may take time to get into your bloodstream.”
- Alexandra Harbushka
What I recommend is if you physically have had sores and your tests come back from negative, go back every couple of months. Again your test results may be negative at first because the virus isn't in your blood, so getting tested every few months is a good way to know for sure.
There is also another way and it’s a third test called the Western blot test. It is orchestrated through the University of Washington. This is the most accurate way to confirm if you have herpes.
If you get both a negative and a positive result from the other two tests and you've never had an outbreak, then this is the definitive test. It is the most accurate test available.
Here's what I suggest you do if your test results have left you in limbo about whether or not you have herpes: call the University of Washington at 206-685-8037. Press option 2 and speak to whomever answers the phone. Tell them you’d like to get the test sent to you, and ask any other questions you have. When I called I talked to a woman named Eva who told me the cost of the Western blot Test is $226.85. It is free for them to send you the test, you pay for the test when you send it in.
When the test kit arrives, you need to go to a lab and have them draw your blood, and then package the sample for you to send it in. From there you simply wait. The turnaround time for this test is 1-3 weeks, and it varies only depending on how many other tests they have that time. So if you get your results in one week it doesn’t mean you are negative, and the opposite is also true.
This option is more expensive than just going to your healthcare provider, I don't believe the Western blot test takes insurance but you can call and find out. Feel free to call them, the Virology Department at University of Washington is really great, they actually answer their phones and will talk with you.
Again, thank you for asking this question Katie. It's so important for all of us to know what our options are when getting tested for herpes, and it's valuable for us to know so we can share this information with our partners so they can get tested too.
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