How to diagnose Genital Herpes

By  , Expert Content
Jan 18, 2013

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Tests to diagnose genital herpes are important as it's easy to mistake symptoms of genital herpes for something else. Likewise many people have been wrongly diagnosed clinically as cases of genital herpes because a doctor didn't test them for the infection. Genital herpes can be diagnosed clinically (based on symptoms and clinical findings) but your doctor will recommend certain laboratory tests.

Medical history and physical examination:Your doctor will take a detailed medical history. You may be asked questions like your current symptoms and the duration of symptoms, sexual history, other associated medical conditions, and your medications (prescription and non-prescription). You will be examined for signs and symptoms of genital herpes such as genital sores, ulcers. Genital herpes diagnosis can often be diagnosed clinically but in some people the symptoms may not be clear especially in between herpes outbreaks. Your doctor may recommend tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Tests to diagnose Genital Herpes: Some of the tests that may be done in cases of genital herpes include viral culture and blood tests.

  1. Viral culture: Your doctor will take tissue sample or scraping of the sores. The sample is cultured which allows any viruses in the sample to multiply and then it is examine under a microscope. Culture makes it easy to identify herpes virus under a microscope. The type of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) can also be determined. This can help to predict prognosis and how often you may have recurrences. At times the culture may be negative even if you have genital herpes---- like if the lesion has started to heal (usually 48 hours after its appearance), there may not be enough virus in the sample, and the culture result may be a "false negative." If your doctor still suspects herpes infection a blood test may be recommended.
  2. Blood test: Sample of your blood is tested for the presence of HSV antibodies in this test. The test can detect HSV antibodies even when you have no symptoms (that is even a past herpes infection). The antibodies are formed after a few days of initial infection. If the blood test is done early in the course of primary infection a false-negative result from a blood test is possible as there may not be enough antibodies in the blood. Blood test is useful to confirm genital herpes;


  • if the culture is negative
  • in people who have no symptoms of genital herpes but infection is suspected
  • in people with complaints of genital irritation but it is not sure if it's herpes,
  • in a person who has a sexual partner with herpes and wants to find out if he is infected.

The blood tests cannot confirm if you have a herpes outbreak. Some of the newer blood tests can determine the type of HSV you are infected with ---HSV-1 or HSV-2, but it cannot determine if you have genital herpes, the site of infection (for example, the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth) and other herpes infections. However the doctor’s mostly assume that you have genital herpes if you are positive for HSV-2. If your blood test is positive for HSV it indicates that you are infected with HSV and can become contagious from time to time.

Other tests: Your doctor may recommend tests to rule out other condition such as (syphilis, drug reaction, scabies, skin cancer, psoriasis, behcet's disease) which have signs or symptoms similar to genital herpes.

These are some of the tests which are done for genital herpes. Many newer tests are on the horizon. Your doctor will recommend tests based on your signs and symptoms.



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