Testing For Herpes with Alexandra Harbushka

Testing for herpes ep 085

What Types of Tests are There For Herpes? 

The breakdown of herpes tests, false positives and retesting.

So maybe you’re wondering if your herpes test came back with a false positive. Or maybe you are wondering if you were even tested for herpes when you did your other STD testing. Or maybe you are just wondering where to even begin. Well here it is, there are 2 types of herpes tests; the culture test and the blood test. I want to make sure you are aware that you have to ask for a herpes test. Just because you got STD/I tested does not mean you were tested for herpes. You specifically have to ask for a herpes test. Not knowing this little bit of crucial information can really cause for some false hope in a clear STD test.  Why this is the case is beyond me but I wanted to make sure you knew this essential tidbit. If you are like me then you are probably thinking, with different types of tests how do I know what type is best for my situation and I have to specifically ask for a herpes test?

Basically, herpes testing is broken down into 2 categories; symptoms or no symptoms?

So let’s talk about herpes symptoms: If you have symptoms like an outbreak with lesions or blisters then most likely your doctor or medical provider will do a culture test or commonly known as a swab test. This usually takes place 48 hours after the lesions appear and one of the downsides is the test results can take up to a week for the results. So if you are experiencing an outbreak and a ton of pain then you may have to wait a week to get a prescription.  The good news (if there is good news when we are talking about herpes :-) ) with the culture test is that the virus can be identified either as Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV1) or Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV2). The other piece is that if your culture comes back positive for HSV 1 or 2 then you can know for sure that you have herpes. The good news is you are no longer playing the waiting game even though it is not the answer you were looking for.

The Herpes Culture Test Takeaways:

  • Need to have an active outbreak for longer than 48 hours to test
  • The test can determine if it is HSV1 or HSV2
  • If the test comes back positive you can be sure you have herpes.

Now let’s say you don’t have symptoms and you want to get tested for herpes. These types of scenarios would be you slept with someone who has herpes or you are being proactive and in charge of your sexual health are getting tested or maybe your partner just told you that they have herpes. In other words, you don’t have sores or lesions. There are 2 types of blood tests that can be administered the IgM & IgG. Before we go into what the IgM & the IgG tests do I want to go back to 6th-grade science class. Remember what happens when you get a virus? maybe...lol? Well, when something foreign comes into your body that can be harmful like bacteria, viruses and or parasites our immune system kicks into full gear to protect us and keep us healthy. First, your B cells or your white blood cells come to the scene and fight to keep you healthy in return they create antibodies.  Then the fight T cells show up to kill off the badly infected cells to prevent the bad cells from reproducing and populating. There is a triage team of cells that show up when the herpes virus shows up. It’s kinda cool.

Let’s look at IgM & the IgG blood tests for herpes. 

The tests are looking for the IgM & IgG antibodies in the blood because the HSV virus does not live in the blood. The difference between the two is the  IgG appears soon after infection and stays in the blood for life. IgM is actually the first antibody that appears after infection, but it can disappear after. So the most accurate of the two is the IgG and the IgM is not typically administered.

There are 3 reasons why the IgM is not typically administered and they are:

  • IgM can come and go in the body so it may give a false reading and a false time frame of when the person actually contracted herpes
  • The test can’t determine if you have HSV1 or HSV2 and most people in the US have the HSV1 antibody so you could receive a false positive for HSV2
  • The IgM can sometimes pick up other viruses that are in the herpes family such as chickenpox or mono.

Here is the deal with the IgG:

  • The IgG can determine if it is HSV1 or HSV2
  • If you test positive for HSV than it is accurate
  • The downside is the antibodies have to show up in the system and this can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Every person's body reacts differently.
  • If you test too soon and the antibodies are not yet in the bloodstream then you can receive a false positive and then a few weeks later test positive

Is there a test that will tell me if I have oral or genital herpes?

Well yes and no. The blood tests, IgM and IgG do not pinpoint if you will have an oral outbreak or a genital outbreak. The IgM & IgG do determine if it is HSV1 or HSV2. The swab tests will pinpoint if it is oral or genital because you have an outbreak and it will also determine if it is HSV1 or HSV2.  Typically if you have an oral outbreak then statistically you have HSV1 and if you have a genital outbreak then statistically you have HSV2. However, as we have discussed before the virus can be interchanged and you can become infected with either or both viruses in either or both places.

Can I have False Positives on my herpes test? 

As we discussed earlier it all depends on the antibodies showing up in your system and if you have an actually outbreak with lesions. If you test too soon and the antibodies have not popped up yet then you can get a false reading. Same as if you to a culture test too soon or too late. If you administer the test before the lesions or after they have healed up the most likely you will get a false reading.

If A Test Comes Back Negative, Should I Retest? 

Considering that there are chances of false negatives during any herpes test, it is important to consider a retest, especially if you are experienced lesion or you know you have come into contact with someone who is infected.  


ASHA WebMD Planned Parenthood 




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