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Herpes Testing

Whether you’re concerned about an area of skin which you think is Herpes or want to understand whether you’ve been exposed to Herpes in the past, we offer two types of tests to help you find these answers.

Testing for Herpes is available in both our Birmingham & Leicestershire clinics, with nurses and doctors specialising in the field of sexual health.

Option 1: Herpes (DNA PCR) swab test

This is recommended when we suspect that you have a lesion caused by Herpes.

Learn more >

Option 2: Herpes (antibody) blood test

This test looks for the previous exposure to Herpes type 1 & 2, with results in 20 minutes.

Learn more >

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Herpes Swab Test

A DNA PCR swab test for Herpes (types 1&2) is recommended when symptoms suggestive of Herpes are present. A lesion swab is taken by your clinician and the sample is sent to our lab – this is a straightforward and painless process.

Treatment for Herpes outbreak is included in the price.

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Window Period

N/A

Sample required for men

Swab from the suspected lesion

Time for test results

Within 4 working days 

Cost of test

£150 (includes treatment for Herpes outbreak)

or £100 if taken with another test

What is a Herpes swab test?

The Herpes Swab test is carried out when a lesion is suspected to be due to the Herpes simplex virus. 

In the simplest terms, a positive test confirms the diagnosis of Herpes, and a negative test result rules out this diagnosis.

How does Herpes swab test work?

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR in short) is a sophisticated technology that allows a tiny amount of genetic material of the virus to be amplified for easy detection.

The test can confirm the presence of Type 1 Herpes virus or Type 2 Herpes virus. Rarely both Type 1 and Type 2 Herpes simplex virus can be detected from the same lesion.

What sample does the test require?

A swab is taken from the area of the suspected Herpes outbreak. Taking a swab from gently bursting blisters gives the best yield. The swabbing is generally done by a clinician, but can sometimes be done yourself.

If there are no external lesions to take a swab from, a urine sample or a high vaginal swab can be used to test for the Herpes virus. Your doctor may suggest this after an assessment of your symptoms.

How is it different from the Herpes blood test?

The Herpes swab test looks for the genetic material of the virus to confirm any present infection (i.e. active infection).

On the other hand, the Herpes blood test looks for proteins in the blood called antibodies which the body makes after exposure to the virus, as part of immune response of the body.

Do I need a Herpes swab test?

A swab test for Herpes (types 1&2) is recommended when symptoms suggestive of Herpes are present.

  • Sometimes the lesions are typical of Herpes virus, and the test confirms the diagnosis as well as type of the virus, whether type 1 or type 2. 
  • Having a laboratory confirmation of the diagnosis is important in managing subsequent outbreaks in the future. 
  • Female patients who are planning to conceive, find a confirmed Herpes diagnosis, reassuring in the knowledge that the pre-existing IgG antibody against Herpes virus will cross the placenta and protect the baby at birth.
  • It is not uncommon that even an experienced clinician can get the diagnosis of Herpes wrong just from a visual examination.
  • Sometimes the swabs are taken to rule out a Herpes diagnosis from lesions not likely to be due to Herpes, so that diagnostic work up can focus on other possible causes of the symptoms.
  • In practice the patients present with rash, cuts, soreness or redness of mucosa or skin, and can be due to thrush, trauma, eczema or Herpes. They can not be distinguished just from their appearance. Your doctor may recommend a Herpes Swab test in some of these situations.

When should I get tested?

The chances of detecting the virus is highest when the lesions are active, indicated by presence of signs of inflammation. Once the lesions have scabbed and dried up, there may not be any virus in the sample to detect.

How accurate is this test?

We process our Herpes swab test at an UKAS accredited laboratory.

The accuracy of the Herpes virus PCR test is approx. 99%.

What happens if my test is positive?

If you are tested positive for Herpes (i.e. it is Detected) then we will discuss what it means for you, provide medication to manage the condition and ensure you don’t pass it on to your partner.

With proper care and information, you should be able to live a normal life after having a Herpes outbreak, and this includes a new relationship, a successful pregnancy and a normal vaginal delivery (later 2 for female patients).

Herpes treatment >

Is it possible to have treatment for Herpes while waiting for the test result?

Yes, often a treatment with antiviral medication is offered based on clinical assessment before the test result is available. Treatment for Herpes is most effective when given soon after an outbreak has occurred.

Do I have to tell my current partner(s) if my Herpes swab test is positive?

If your partner does not have any symptoms, there is no requirement to tell your current partner(s).

However, if they are pregnant, it is important to let them know so they can discuss it with their doctor. She may need Herpes blood test [read more here] and take extra precautions to minimise any risk to the pregnancy and the baby.

Do I have to tell my future partner(s) if my Herpes swab test is positive?

There is no requirement to tell your future partner(s) about your Herpes swab result.

However, it is important that you avoid any sexual contact if you have any active herpetic lesions to reduce the risk of transmission to your partner.

Herpes Blood Test

This test looks for the following Herpes antibodies: Herpes 1&2 IgG/IgM

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Window Period

N/A

Sample required for men

Blood from the vein

Time for test results

Within 20 minutes

Cost of test

£150 (or £100 if taken with another test)

What is a Herpes blood test?

The first time you come in contact with the Herpes virus, the body will create an antibody in response to this infection. The antibody is an attempt by your immune system to protect yourself from this infection.

As such, the presence of an antibody tells you that you have been in contact with the Herpes virus.

Exposure to Type 1 Herpes virus will produce antibody to Type 1 Herpes. Likewise, exposure to Type 2 Herpes virus will produce antibodies against Type 2 Herpes.

What types of Herpes antibodies can this test for?

This test can test for IgG & IgM antibodies of both Type 1 and Type 2 Herpes. Please see below for how the results are interpreted.

How is it different from the Herpes swab test?

The Herpes blood test looks for any past infection of the Herpes virus.

The Herpes swab PCR test, on the other hand, looks for any present infection of the Herpes virus.

Do I need a Herpes blood test?

This test is not routinely recommended, and your doctor may advise to take up this test in certain specific situations.

The detection of anti-HSV IgM in the absence of anti-HSV IgG can be an effective method of detecting early stages of HSV infection and an indicator of primary infection.

If you have symptoms of Herpes [sores, cuts, ulcers, spots, area of redness] then we recommend a swab from the lesion to test for the virus itself [learn more here]. A positive test tells that the lesion is due to Herpes.

Herpes blood test can be of value in certain situations:

When you are pregnant
When someone is pregnant and gets an episode of Herpes, it is important to know if the mother has got IgG antibody against herpes virus. IgG can cross the placenta and go from the mother to the foetus, and protect the baby. This minimizes the risk to the newborn baby getting Herpes infection.

If the mother has had not enough time between getting the infection and normal vaginal delivery, the IgG will not yet have been produced and the protection in the newborn will not be in place to protect itself from the virus being shed in mother’s genital tract. In this situation, a caesarean section is recommended to prevent the baby from getting neonatal Herpes (rather than normal vaginal delivery).

When you are planning to conceive
When your partner is known or suspected to have Herpes, knowing your correct Herpes status can help in reducing unnecessary anxiety or specific measures. Also, treatment can be advised in case of discordance in Herpes status.

When you are planning to have a new relationship
When one of the partner’s known or suspected to have Herpes, knowing the correct status of the partner can help in reducing unnecessary anxiety or specific measures. Also, treatment can be advised in case of discordance of their Herpes status.

When you get symptoms suggestive of Herpes, and swabs have been negative for Herpes.
Eliminating Herpes as a possible cause for genital ulcers, and this points to the non-herpetic causes of ulcers, for example, Behcet’s disease, Crohn’s disease and autoimmune ulcers.

If you are just curious about Herpes exposure
It may be that you just want to know if you have been exposed to Herpes virus in the past. If you want to confirm whether you have had herpes in the past then this test will help you.

When should I take this test?

The blood test for Herpes (1&2) is recommended when you want to see whether you have had Herpes (1 or 2) in the past. There is no set window period after which you should get tested.

Serial tests, as baseline after exposure and repeated after 3-4 months can be of value in detecting recent seroconversion. So if you are concerned about a specific exposure, then we would recommend having tests at baseline and repeat them 4 months later. This is because it can take up-to 4 months for Herpes antibodies to show.

How accurate is this test?

The tests we use are CE and IVD marked, with an accuracy of approx 95%.

False negative results can occur if the level of antibody is too low or there has not been a herpes outbreak for a long time or a sample is taken too early in the stage of disease when antibodies have not yet developed.

False positives may occur in specimens from patients with infectious mononucleosis and certain auto-immune conditions.

What do the results mean?

The results of a Herpes blood test will generally be reported as positive, negative, or equivocal (i.e. neither negative or positive).

Type 1/2 Positive Negative
IgM

Can be detected 9-10 days after exposure and last for 7-14 days, though may remain detectable for up to 6 weeks.

Often associated with primary infection but may be detectable during recurrence of the disease.

Will disappear (= turn negative) in a few months time (3 months).

 

Not exposed to the Herpes virus in last 6 weeks.

IgG Can be detected 21-28 days after exposure and remain detectable for rest of life. Not exposed to Herpes virus in the past.

What happens if my test is positive?

Typically, no further action is needed. Please see ‘Do I need this test?’ for a more detailed answer.

Will I know who gave me the Herpes virus?

You may wish to know from whom you got the virus. However, this can be a difficult question to answer. Any attempt to answer such a question takes into account the full sexual history, previous and current herpes test results (swabs and blood tests) as well as the presence of symptoms in you and your partner.

The answer can vary depending on your sexual history. If you have had multiple partners in a short period of time, then this test alone may not tell you who gave you the Herpes virus.

If you have had only one partner for many months, then this test alone may help you determine who gave you the Herpes virus.

Do I have to tell my partner if I test positive?

Unlike testing positive for Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea, there is usually no need to tell your partner about testing positive for Herpes Antibody (Type 1 or Type 2) unless your partner is pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

Some may decide to share their results so they can go into the future with a better understanding of their sexual health and be better prepared for any outbreaks.

Herpes treatment

We can treat a painful Herpes outbreak as well as long term suppression of the infection.

Herpes information

We’ve written answers to common questions we hear from patients about symptoms, causes & complications of Herpes.

Why be tested at a specialist clinic?

Of course, our expertise means we can offer you an extensive range of tests and treatments which may not be available in many GPs (and even some sexual health clinics).

However, and more importantly, we see all sorts of sexual health problems (including those referred to us by GPs) on a daily basis.

This puts us in a helpful position of being able to understand the problems you come to us with and put you on the right path in as little time as possible.

Clarewell Clinics Specialist Consultation Image

We follow guidelines set by

NICE National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

BASHH British Association for Sexual Health and HIV

BHIVA British HIV Association

FSRH Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare

Medicine is a complicated subject and sometimes these guidelines don’t always hold the answers.

For example, treating an STI in a patient who has developed a resistance to routinely used antibiotics.

Unlike most private clinics, we have medical consultants here to help you navigate through such problems and get you on the right track in no time.

Page reviewed by Dr. Manoj Malu (Clinical Director)

Last reviewed date: 3 March 2020
Next review due: 3 March 2023

Whilst this content is written and reviewed by sexual health specialists, it is for general guidance only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your clinician.